NARRAGANSETT, R.I. — The head pastor at St. Thomas More and St. Veronica Catholic churches apologized to parishioners during weekend Masses for the “hurt and anguish” caused when they found out through the media last week their new assistant pastor had been removed from two other churches for inappropriate comments to children.
“It’s been a most difficult week for you, the entire parish, and to be honest, the most excruciating week of my priesthood,” the Rev. Marcel Taillon told the parishioners.
But some thought Taillon’s statement left them with more questions than answers about the Rev. Eric Silva — and that the church fell short in taking responsibility.
“Father Taillon didn’t mention the safety of children, or children at all, even once. His ability to be tone deaf to the issue at hand is absolutely breathtaking in this omission,” said Dr. Ann Hagan Webb, a survivor of clergy abuse and representative of Rhode Island SNAP, Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “The Catholic Church does everything in its power to protect children in the womb. After birth, they throw those children to their wolves in priests clothing.”
Ordained in 2019, Silva had been placed on leave in February, after the principal at Immaculate Conception School in Cranston banned him for making comments to children about their sexuality during confession. The Diocese of Providence also said it had received complaints about Silva from St. Luke’s School in Barrington.
But a few months later, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin decided Silva was ready to return.
Taillon said the Diocese offered Silva for the ministry on June 7, and that the young priest began filling in at churches throughout the state, including at this parish. Tallion didn’t tell parishioners about Silva’s background, the accusations, or why he’d been moved around.
“Not one person in the parish or from anywhere ever told me they had any reservation until this week,” Taillon said. “Our parish has many statewide visitors from all over Rhode Island, and some recognized him from parishes where he served and were so happy and pleased to see him.”
While Silva introduced himself to the parish in July, he didn’t speak about his past. Neither did Taillon, who introduced Silva.
Taillon said in his statement that Silva had planned to introduce himself formally and talk about his temporary leave of absence after he was settled in at the parish permanently on Aug. 15.
Instead, SNAP alerted the media on Aug. 1 about Silva’s past. After last week’s publicity and parishioners’ “fears, anxiety, and even anger,” Taillon said he and Silva asked the bishop to rescind the assignment.
Taillon apologized that the outcry had “unsettled and threatened to divide us,” and he asked the parishioners to pray for him and for each other. He led them in the prayer of St. Michael the Archangel, a prayer that has become the go-to at other churches roiled by sexual abuse scandals, calling for the defense “against the wickedness and snares of the devil.”
However, to some, Taillon — and the Diocese of Providence — have left much unsaid.
“While the pastor apologized to his parish community for the pain and anguish they have experienced this past week, he had no words of apology or prayers for the victims of sexual abuse,” said Stephen and Christina Brophy of South Kingstown, in an open letter to Bishop Tobin on Monday. “The parishioners of St. Thomas More and the community as a whole deserved transparency. Instead, there was none.”
Taillon’s apology didn’t explain Silva’s background, the accusations against him, or why he’d been moved around — or why he believed the young priest was ready to return, the Brophys said.
“Until the facts and full background of this particular priest are made public, there is too much risk in allowing him to serve in any parish,” the Brophys said. “In light of all that has been revealed over the last several years about sexual abuse in the Catholic church, how could Bishop Tobin make such a bad decision and place this man in another parish? Yet he planned to do just that.”
They are the parents of child sexual abuse survivor Ryan Brophy, who last week publicly protested outside St. Veronica, which is near the family’s ice cream shop, Brickley’s Homemade Ice Cream.
“Bishop Tobin, I was willing to put not just my reputation, but my physical safety on the line in hopes that it may protect even one child,” he said Monday. “What are you willing to do?”
Christina Brophy said they wanted to show their support for their son. And in turn, she said, the community has been supportive — and now, calls for change are coming from within.
“I’ve had phone calls from other priests who are very happy that Ryan has spoken out,” Christina Brophy told a Boston Globe reporter on Monday, “and they are very disillusioned with the leadership.”
This article has been updated to correct the spelling of St. Thomas More church.