PROVIDENCE — A priest who was placed on leave earlier this year after complaints that he’d made inappropriate comments to students at two Catholic schools has been assigned to a parish in Narragansett.
The Diocese of Providence has placed the Reverend Eric Silva as an assistant pastor at St. Thomas More Parish, effective Aug. 15, according to a July 14 notice about new assignments.
Silva had been on temporary administrative leave since February, after the principal of Immaculate Conception Catholic Regional School in Cranston barred him when parents complained that he’d asked children about their sexual activity and orientation.
Silva, who’d been ordained in 2019, was an assistant pastor at St. Luke’s Parish in Barrington at the time and visited the Cranston school as a substitute priest. The Diocese said in a Feb. 14 statement that there were complaints from St. Luke School as well, and that Silva’s questions had been in the “context of the Sacrament of Penance.”
However, then-Immaculate Conception Principal Andrea Spaziante said that she was “angry, frustrated, and sad” about Silva’s behavior.
“Over the last six years, we have all created a community based on trust, love, compassion, understanding, and faith. In a short two-hour time period, a trusted adult has come in and rocked our community,” she wrote an e-mail to the school community obtained by WPRI, adding that Silva “will never be invited to our church or school again under our leadership.”
Spaziante left Immaculate Conception at the end of the school year in June and has moved on to the Prout School in South Kingstown. Weeks later, the Diocese announced that Silva was being assigned a new parish.
Diocese spokesman Michael Kieloch said Tuesday Silva’s temporary administrative leave had “afforded him time for pastoral study and reflection.”
Kieloch said that Silva was given permission to return to active ministry in July and has been assisting at parishes around the diocese. Silva had completed all of the formation that the diocese required, so he was given “a more stable assignment” at the St. Thomas More Parish as an assistant pastor, Kieloch said. Keiloch did not answer questions about specific programs or training that Silva was required to fulfill.
“Father Eric Silva is a fine priest and I am confident that he will serve his parish community very well,” Bishop Thomas J. Tobin said in a statement. “Father Silva has done everything we have asked him to do, I trust him completely, and it’s time for him to get back to work.”
The diocese placed Silva in the heart of the legislative district represented by Democrat Representative Carol Hagan McEntee, who has been outspoken about how the Roman Catholic Church has handled priests accused of sexual misconduct.
In 2019, McEntee sponsored a bill that became law to extend the civil statute of limitations for reporting child sexual abuse to 35 years. She introduced the bill in honor of her sister, Ann Hagan Webb, who had testified about being molested by a priest as a child.
She said that she and other residents questioned how the diocese determined Silva was fit for continuing in the priesthood.
“It’s very concerning that a priest found to be inappropriate to serve the people in the parish in Cranston and to be around the children in Cranston is now moved to Narragansett, where they have a vacation Bible school and other youth organizations,” said McEntee, whose District 33 includes Narragansett and South Kingstown. “This reassignment lacks all transparency on what he did while he was on leave to better prepare him, and we have no assurances in Narragansett that he should be trusted around children.”
SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, saw the priest’s questions as part of “grooming patterns” and said there were concerns that Tobin didn’t reveal any information about Silva’s “inappropriate behavior.”
“We are fully aware that there was no allegation of sexual abuse against Fr. Silva, we do know that these probing words by a cleric, to any child or adult, reek of grooming patterns,” SNAP, which provides support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings, said in a statement Monday.
“It is no surprise to us that Bishop Tobin quietly placed ‘Fr. Eric’ back on the job. Tobin has been scrutinized for his involvement in handling the transfer of suspect priests when he worked as Vicar General and General Secretary for the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Tobin said that he was aware of allegations of sexual abuse during his time in Pennsylvania but could not act on them.”
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @AmandaMilkovits.