November 15, 2005

Bishop denies sex cover-up

Telegram & Gazette


WORCESTER— Bishop Robert J. McManus maintains he never attempted to cover up an incident of lewd conduct involving the Rev. James J. Aquino in Las Vegas, but was led to believe the charges brought by police were inaccurate and the case would be dismissed.

That belief changed in late October, he said, when news of the incident became public, police and court documents from Las Vegas were posted on a Web site, and Rev. Aquino stood on the altar of Our Lady of Loreto parish to relate his account, saying the bishop had asked him to remain quiet about the incident.

The bishop’s response was in a column he writes for the Diocese of Worcester newspaper, The Catholic Free Press, on Nov. 11. He had not responded to e-mails, faxes and phone requests for clarification placed over the past 10 days on what new information he had received late last month that prompted him to reverse his earlier position and remove Rev. Aquino from active ministry.

“Some have asked if I made a mistake when I left Father Aquino in ministry until recently,” Bishop McManus states in the latest issue of the Free Press. “In recent weeks, I have asked myself this same question,” he said.

He said his decision to leave Rev. Aquino in the ministry for several months after learning of the Oct. 24, 2004, incident was based on what Rev. Aquino and his lawyer had told him.

Bishop McManus said that although Rev. Aquino originally was charged more than a year ago, he did not learn of the incident until February. He said he talked with David Roger, district attorney for Clark County in Las Vegas, and was given a copy of the police report that was redacted, adding that he was assured by Rev. Aquino and his lawyer that the police report was inaccurate and that the charges would be dismissed.

Apparently the only redacted portion of the police report forwarded to the bishop was the name of the other man involved in the incident.

Rev. Aquino had said that he wasn’t involved in sexual activity when he was detained by Las Vegas vice squad officers the previous year in the Adult Superstore, but did acknowledge some wrongdoing. Bishop McManus said he “learned of the admission of sexual activity by the other consenting adult” when it was reported in the news media.

In addition, he said, “I learned that an additional Las Vegas law enforcement official publicly supported the finding of the initial police report,” he said. A spokesman for Las Vegas police told the Telegram & Gazette this month that Rev. Aquino paid $8 to enter a theater and adult book store and was observed during a raid.

“Finally, I was troubled by the manner, as reported in the press, by which Father Aquino denied the allegations at the public meeting he called. I was also disturbed by inappropriate statements made against the investigating police officials in Las Vegas, and strongly expressed my appreciation for law enforcement officials in my homily to the parishioners.”

Rev. Aquino’s lawyer, Anthony A. Froio, told the parishioners that police did not become interested in Rev. Aquino until finding out he was a priest.

“Following the meeting, I reconsidered the facts of the case and the previous explanations given to me since last February,” the bishop wrote in his column.

Rev. Aquino, who was vacationing in Las Vegas, was detained along with the other man in the adult entertainment store. Vice squad officers said they observed the priest masturbating the other man during a movie.

When escorted outside by police, Rev. Aquino gave a false Social Security number and later admitted he did that because he was a priest, according to officers who conducted the raid. He was issued a criminal citation for lewd conduct and giving false information.

In March, he was allowed to plead guilty to the lesser charge of disorderly conduct after he provided proof that he had done 50 hours of community service work and attended counseling. The case was dismissed from the Justice Court in Las Vegas Sept. 6.

“In this entire matter there was no attempt to impede justice. No documents were concealed. At no time did I ask the district attorney to intervene to the benefit of Father Aquino,” the bishop said.

Philip M. Hymanson, an Athol native and former prosecutor, now a lawyer for the Las Vegas Diocese, said last week that his diocese was contacted by Mr. Roger after Rev. Aquino was charged, and was told there was “a priest in trouble.”

Mr. Hymanson said the Las Vegas Diocese had no role after it was determined Rev. Aquino was from the Worcester Diocese. Mr. Roger said in a recent interview that he has a good working relationship with the Las Vegas Diocese and generally informs them when allegations are made against priests.

Bishop McManus said he was “very disheartened” by the incident in Las Vegas. “Notwithstanding the immoral character of the incident and his wrongful presence in an adult entertainment store, I am mindful that this case is different from that of a priest abusing his office when another person knows that he is a priest, particularly since this incident involved a consenting adult,” he said.

Posted by kshaw at November 15, 2005 09:24 AM