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Spotlight Report

Suspended priest was accused earlier

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 3/20/2002

PROVIDENCE - After Father Daniel Azzarone was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a 16-year-old Cranston boy in November, he was suspended as a priest by Bishop Robert E. Mulvee, whose spokesman cited the treatment as a good example of the bishop's ''zero tolerance'' policy towards abusers.

What the Diocese of Providence did not say - but admitted yesterday, after inquiries from the Globe - was that it had received two earlier complaints that Azzarone had molested boys. The reports were passed on to police, according to the diocese, but the priest was allowed to continue serving in parishes until his arrest. Since Azzarone's arrest, another youth has said he was abused, Cranston police said yesterday.

A mother from St. Clement's parish in Warwick who asked that her name not be revealed said she told the diocese that her son had been abused by Azzarone in 1988.

The woman told the bishop's investigator that Azzarone had molested her son in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when her son was between 14 and 16 years old.

In a statement, the diocese confirmed that the woman had made the allegation, but the diocese had dismissed it after an investigation ''yielded nothing to substantiate the claim.''

The woman's son, who is now 36, is a schizophrenic and is in an institution. ''His accounts were considered unreliable'' and Azzarone denied the abuse, said the diocesan statement. The diocese said her report was made in 1999.

''It remains unclear whether or not Father Azzarone's subsequent arrest on unrelated charges adds credence to [the mother's] assertions,'' said the statement.

The woman said the investigator told her no criminal charges could be brought, which she said missed the point. She wanted the priest kept away from youths.

The alleged abuse of the boy involved fondling, said Timothy C. Conlon of Providence, the woman's attorney.

The diocese was asked in writing why Azzarone was not suspended because of the allegations.

''A priest cannot be summarily suspended from ministry based on unsubstantiated claims,'' said the statement. ''Zero tolerance remains the policy of the Bishop of Providence.''

A statement about the ''zero tolerance'' policy on the diocesan newspaper's Web site states that ''Concern for victims and prevention of any further harm will be the priorities of such an investigation.''

The diocese also said it received a written allegation in 1992 from a man who has since died. The allegation was passed on to the state Department of Children and Families, which forwarded it to the State Police, said the diocese. The results of the investigation were not known, said the statement.

Azzarone was arrested on Nov. 14 as he stepped out of a limousine in front of St. Mary's Church in Cranston after returning from a supper and a show in New York City, said Cranston Detective Commander William B. Burroughs.

He has been charged with one count of first-degree sexual assault, which carries a sentence of from 10 years to life. His case is expected to go before a grand jury next week. He is free on bail. Robert B. Mann, Azzarone's lawyer, said his client would have no comment.

The police report said the assault involved between 30 and 40 incidents of oral sex, with the abuse beginning on a cruise trip to the Caribbean.

The priest also made a number of harassing phone calls to the boy, which police have recordings of. At one point, the priest called the boy's home about 80 times over a 24-hour period and even called the boy during the ride back from New York the night he was arrested, said Burroughs. The priest allegedly gave the boy marijuana and alcohol as well. Since that arrest, another alleged victim has come forward, said Burroughs.

On Saturday, the Globe reported that legal foot-dragging by the diocese has kept 38 alleged victims of sexual abuse waiting for up to 10 years to settle lawsuits against 11 priests and a nun. The suits have dragged on for so long that four of the priests have died.

Matt Carroll can be reached at

This story ran on page A30 of the Boston Globe on 3/20/2002.
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