LOWELL — Last November, police watched a driver cruise through a neighborhood for some 20 minutes, passing a prostitute several times to get her attention. When officers pulled the man over, he initially said he was “just driving around,” according to a police report.
But when police pressed him and suggested he was not being truthful, the man told officers he “wanted to just go home,” the report stated.
On Sunday afternoon, police had another encounter with Monsignor Arthur M. Coyle, a high-ranking official with the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, this time arresting him and accusing him of soliciting a prostitute.
Coyle, 62, pleaded not guilty to the charges Monday at his arraignment in Lowell District Court. He voluntarily took a leave of absence from his position as episcopal vicar for the Merrimack region, the archdiocese said in a statement.
In that role, Coyle oversees one of five geographic regions within the archdiocese and reports directly to Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley.
Police said they were conducting surveillance for prostitution and drug use Sunday when they saw a known prostitute, whom they had arrested “many times in the past.” A short time later, they saw her riding with Coyle in a black Chevrolet Equinox, and followed the vehicle to the far end of a cemetery. After a few minutes, they approached the vehicle.
“Mr. Coyle appeared very nervous and startled,” the report stated. The 38-year-old woman told police Coyle had paid her $40 for sexual activity. It was their second paid encounter, she said.
Coyle admitted he had picked her up for sex, police said, but said “they hadn’t done anything yet.”
Since last November, police reports indicated that officers saw Coyle driving through areas known for prostitution “well over a dozen different times.” He would stop and slow down “every time he sees a single female or a known prostitute,” the report stated.
An officer documented the incident in an e-mail to a commander.
Coyle, who resides at the rectory of St. Rita Church in Lowell, could not be reached for comment. He is scheduled to be back in court Sept. 16 for a pretrial conference. Bail was set at $500.
Coyle was ordained a priest in 1977 and has served as episcopal vicar since 2008, according to the archdiocese’s website. While on leave, he is prohibited from performing any public ministry, the archdiocese said.
“These restrictions will remain in place pending the outcome of the case,” the archdiocese said. “The steps taken today do not represent a determination of Monsignor Coyle’s guilt or innocence as it pertains to these charges.”
In December, Pope Benedict XVI gave Coyle the title of prelate of honor, the second of three ranks of monsignor within the church, according to published reports. Coyle had previously served at parishes in Brockton, Framingham, and Scituate, among others.
Officials at St. Rita could not be reached for comment.
There were no other records related to Coyle on file at Lowell District Court.
The woman, Siriwan Kongkaen, will be summoned to court on solicitation charges, police said.
Police have targeted the area after receiving frequent complaints from residents.
After an officer read Coyle his rights, the officer asked the priest what he was doing in the cemetery. Coyle responded by lowering his head, according to the report.Lisa Wangsness of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Peter Schworm can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globepete.