Delaware authorities began prosecuting a Catholic ex-priest on charges of child molestation for the first time since the diocese reported abuse by priests in 2006.
A grand jury indicted John A. Sarro on Monday on charges of first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse and second-degree unlawful sexual contact, according to The Associated Press. Sarro is the first priest that Delaware officials have prosecuted since the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington first reported in 2006 that it had received complaints and substantiated allegations against several priests, Sarro included, concerning child sexual abuse.
The diocese reportedly had documented complaints against both living and deceased priests and agreed in 2011 to pay $70 million to almost 150 alleged sex abuse victims, not only to reconcile but also to protect the diocese from the potential of bankruptcy inherent in facing further lawsuits over the alleged abuse. Authorities did not prosecute any priest, however, until now.
Sarro’s charges concern the alleged abuse of a 16-year-old girl, whom prosecutors alleged Sarros fondled in August 1992 and subsequently engaged her in oral sex in between July 1993 and July 1994. Delaware’s criminal code allowed for Sarro to be prosecuted, despite how much time has passed since the alleged abuse, as legislators passed a provision in 2003 that allows for certain sexual crimes against children to be prosecuted “at any time.”
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Representatives of the diocese published a statement concerning Sarros’ indictment, saying that the diocese became fully aware of Sarros’ abusive history in light of a report of alleged abuse he committed in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s. The diocese removed Sarros from ministry in 1997 and banned him from operating or representing himself as a Catholic priest. Sarros’ residence has been monitored since 2002 in light of the allegations against him.
The bishop of the diocese petitioned the Vatican to have Sarros officially removed from the Catholic clergy in 2009, three years after the diocese published the names of priest against whom they received complaint of sexual abuse. The Vatican denied the petition, which is known as a petition for laicization.
An unnamed individual reported alleged abuse to the diocese in 2011 that they said Sarros inflicted on them in St. Helena Parish in the 1990s. The diocese asked permission to report the accusation to the authorities, but the individual requested anonymity.
Despite Sarros’ documented history of sexual abuse allegations, lawyers who represented victims in the 2011 settlement with the diocese said that Sarros’ indictment came as a shock.
“This is totally unprecedented for Delaware,” attorney Thomas Neuberger told the AP.
“We never had anybody complain about Sarro,” Neuberger added.
Sarros’ arraignment will take place Feb. 9.
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