Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A disturbing story from the Worcester Telegram & Gazette

A sad story:

McManus knew earlier of charges against priest

Nevada DA sent bishop police report on Aquino


David Roger, district attorney of Clark County, Nev., said yesterday that he notified Bishop Robert J. McManus in February of the scope of the criminal charges lodged against the Rev. James J. Aquino of Worcester, and provided the bishop with copies of the citation and police report.

Mr. Roger’s account of when the bishop was made aware of details that led to charges against Rev. Aquino appears to differ from recent statements by the bishop concerning the situation. Attempts to reach Bishop McManus and Raymond L. Delisle, spokesman for the bishop and the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, for comment yesterday were unsuccessful.

On Monday, the bishop said his decision to remove Rev. Aquino from his pastorate at Our Lady of Loreto Parish last weekend was based on new information he received in the past week.

“From early February until a few days ago I believed I was in possession of the truth. A few days ago, I realized with deep regret and disappointment that I did not possess the whole truth,” he said.

Issues surrounding the diocese’s handling of allegations against Rev. Aquino came to light when copies of the citation, police report and court records were posted Oct. 21 on an Internet Web site. Four days later, Rev. Aquino addressed parishioners at Our Lady of Loreto and denied that he had been involved in sexual misconduct.

The bishop indicated in previous statements to the Telegram & Gazette and to Daniel E. Dick, victim support coordinator for Worcester Voice of the Faithful, an independent lay Catholic organization, that he saw no reason to remove Rev. Aquino from the ministry because the priest’s lawyer had assured him the allegations were false and would be dismissed.

The lawyer later told the bishop that the case had been dismissed. The original case was dismissed, but court records show that Rev. Aquino entered a guilty plea to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct and was required to fulfill certain obligations.

According to the materials faxed to Bishop McManus by the Las Vegas district attorney, Rev. Aquino was issued a criminal citation on Oct. 21, 2004, by vice squad police officers after he was seen masturbating another man inside the Adult Super Store in that city. He was initially charged with lewd conduct and giving false information, because he gave police officers an incorrect Social Security number, the report said. It also said that he indicated under questioning by police and after pulling his Massachusetts driver’s license from his shoe that he gave wrong information because he was a priest.

Las Vegas court records show that Rev. Aquino was arraigned on Dec. 16 but was not required to be present. No bail was set and the case was continued first to Feb. 10, then to March 10.

At the March session, a written guilty plea was entered in open court for Rev. Aquino, who was not present, to the disorderly conduct charge. He agreed to do 50 hours of community service, obtain counseling and stay out of further trouble. After those conditions were met, the case was dismissed on Sept. 6.

Bishop McManus said he first learned of the incident involving Rev. Aquino in February from the district attorney and church officials. He said he was under the impression charges would be reduced or possibly dismissed.

Mr. Roger said when the case came to his office, he contacted Bishop Joseph A. Pepe of Las Vegas and spoke with a diocesan lawyer. “We have a good working relationship with the diocese here,” he said.

The information was then relayed by the Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas to the Worcester Diocese. “I told them what happened,” the district attorney said of his call to the Las Vegas Diocese. The district attorney said he could not recall if he called the Worcester bishop or if the Worcester bishop called him, but said that they did talk in early February.

“He asked me for the citation and records and I said yes,” Mr. Roger said. The records were faxed to the bishop, he said.

Stephen G. Brady, national president of Roman Catholic Faithful, said yesterday he does not believe Bishop McManus is telling the truth regarding what he knew about Rev. Aquino and the incident in Las Vegas. If he did not know the full scope of what happened in Las Vegas, Mr. Brady said, the bishop did not seem to put much effort into investigating further.

He said he contacted the Worcester Diocese in March and offered to provide information his organization had about what happened in the Las Vegas incident, but never received a call back. Mr. Brady declined to say how RCF obtained the information, but did note that the organization, formed in 1996 and based in Illinois, has built a national network of Catholics who want to get information out about priests and bishops involved in incidents of sexual misconduct.

“I was under the impression by the person who told me about it that there was some fear that Father Aquino was going to get away with this,” he said.

Mr. Brady said he thought that he was doing the bishop and the diocese a favor when he reported the Las Vegas incident to the diocese.


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