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Priest barred from ministry in 1997 indicted for sex with minor


Diocese of Wilmington priest John A. Sarro — who has been barred from ministry since 1997 — was indicted this week for having sexual intercourse with a minor in the early 1990s.

Sarro, 76, was among 20 priests in 2006 identified by the diocese as having “admitted, corroborated or otherwise substantiated” allegations of sexual abuse of minors. This week’s indictment by a grand jury in New Castle County accuses him of first-degree unlawful sexual intercourse and second-degree unlawful sexual contact in the early 1990s.

The indictment accuses Sarro of sexually abusing a minor female when he was in ministry at St. Helena’s Parish in Bellefonte.

Diocesan officials in 1997 were first made aware of allegations of sexual abuse of a minor that took place in the 1980s in Papua, New Guinea where Sarro served as a missionary priest with the Marists, a religious order. He was then removed from ministry, prohibited from celebrating the sacraments in public, and barred from presenting himself as a Catholic priest, according to a statement from the diocese. Since 2002, Sarro has been living in a monitored residence, according to the diocese.

An adult survivor reported abuse by Sarro to the diocese in 2011 and was asked permission to relay that information to law enforcement, but the survivor wanted confidentiality, diocesan spokesman Robert Krebs said. He said the survivor was encouraged to report the abuse.

“The Diocese of Wilmington admires survivors of clergy sexual abuse who courageously come forward and report the abuse to civil authorities,” Krebs said in a statement. “Reporting can be an important first step in the process of emotional and spiritual healing.”

Ordained in 1979, Sarro served at St. Elizabeth Ann Seton in Bear after leaving New Guinea.

Bishop Malooly petitioned the Vatican for Sarro’s laicization, or return to the laity, in 2009, but that was not approved, according to Krebs.
Sarro is free on bail and scheduled to be arraigned next week.

Krebs said the Diocese of Wilmington encourages anyone who has been sexually exploited or abused by a priest, brother, sister or lay person employed by the diocese or by a church volunteer to report such abuse to the civil authorities and to the diocesan survivor assistance coordinator, Peggy McLaughlin, at (302) 468-4507. McLaughlin will take the information about the abuse, offer personal counseling, and will ask the survivor’s permission to advise church officials, specifically the vicar general of the diocese, about the complaint.