Former RI Catholic priest indicted on child-molestation charges

Tom Mooney
The Providence Journal November 9, 2021

PROVIDENCE — A grand jury has returned an 11-count indictment against former priest James Silva alleging he sexually assaulted a boy younger than 14 between 1989 and 1990 while an administrator in the Office of Ministerial Formation within the Diocese of Providence. 

Silva, now 81, faces two counts of first-degree child molestation and nine counts of second-degree child molestation. 

Silva was included in a list of credibly accused priests released by the diocese in 2019. 

For decades, starting in the 1960s, diocese officials transferred him around to a dozen different parishes around the state. Victims of clergy abuse and their lawyers have pointed to his career as an example of how diocese dereliction allowed a known pedophile to move from parish to parish preying on children. 

In the spring of 1980, for instance, one lawsuit says, then Bishop Louis Gelineau transferred Silva from St. Joseph’s in Burrillville after he allegedly molested several boys. Gelineau sent Silva to St. Lucy’s parish, in Middletown, without any warning of the previous allegations against Silva, the lawsuit claims. 

When a Navy Catholic priest informed Gelineau of Silva’s sexual advances on a boy at St. Lucy’s, the lawsuit says, Gelineau replied: “Oh, no. Not again!"

At least twice the diocese sent Silva away for treatment for pedophile priests, a lawsuit says. Sometime around 1983, after Silva had spent about a year in treatment, operators of the New Mexico treatment center, the "Servants of the Paraclete" warned a diocese official to "keep Silva away from youths," the lawsuit alleges.

Silva previously pleaded guilty in 1995 in a separate case to one count of second-degree sexual assault and received a seven-year suspended sentence with probation. 

A 1971 photo of the Rev. James Silva

This is the third former priest that Attorney General Peter F. Neronha has brought charges against since his office gained access to diocese records in 2019 after reaching an agreement with church leaders. 

In November 2020, a  statewide grand jury returned an indictment charging former Woonsocket priest John Petrocelli with multiple counts of child molestation.  

And in May, former Smithfield priest Edward Kelley was charged with multiple counts of sexual assault. 

In a statement Tuesday, Neronha said “Our investigation remains active and ongoing. I am grateful to the Rhode Island State Police for their partnership throughout the investigation.” 

Later, in an interview, the attorney general said the review of thousands of pages of church records has two objectives beyond just possible prosecutions: “To understand the scope of the clergy abuse problem historically" in Rhode Island "and understand the church’s response to it, as they learned of it, not only broadly but in individual circumstances.” 

Neronha said he hoped to release his report in the next few months. 

Following his indictment last week, Silva was arrested and arraigned Monday, during which he pleaded not guilty. 

Superior Court Associate Justice Maureen B. Keough set Silva’s bail at $50,000 with surety. The court also ordered Silva to keep away from his alleged victim, as well as any other person younger than 18.

Silva's many parish assignments included: Jesus Saviour Church, in Newport, from 1967 to 1968; St. Francis Xavier Church, in East Providence, from 1968 to 1969; Jesus Saviour Church, in Newport, from 1969 to 1971; St. Barnabas Church, in Portsmouth, from 1971 to 1972; Regional CYO Newport County, from 1971 to 1974; St. Christopher Church, in Tiverton, from 1972 to 1974; St. Mary Church, in Bristol, from 1974 to 1975; and St. Matthew Church, in Cranston, from 1975 to 1976. 

Also: St. Joseph Church, in Pascoag, from 1976 to 1980; St. Lucy Church, in Middletown, from 1980 to 1981; St. Mary Star of the Sea Church, in Narragansett, in 1982; Continuing Education & Spirituality, Diocese of Providence, in 1981; SS. Peter & Paul Church, in West Warwick, from 1982 to 1983; Cathedral of SS Peter & Paul, in Providence, from 1983 to 1986; St. Joseph Hospital, in Providence, in 1991; and the Office of Ministerial Formation, from 1986 to 1993.


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