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Priest won't stand trial for Rizoli's assault complaint February 3, 2009
John Hilliard 508-626-4449 Metrowest Daily News
FRAMINGHAM -- A clerk magistrate decided yesterday that the pastor of St. Tarcisius Church won't face trial after being accused of assault and battery by one of the town's most vocal opponents of illegal immigration.

The hearing at Framingham District Court stemmed from an assault and battery complaint against the Rev. Joe Pranzo, which was filed by Joe Rizoli. Rizoli claimed Pranzo tried to take away Rizoli's video camera at a Dec. 6 public forum held at the church.

A clerk magistrate ruled there was no probable cause to bring the case to trial. The closed hearing lasted less than an hour.

Pranzo wouldn't comment to a reporter. His lawyer, Beirne Lovely, said the pastor didn't commit any assault against Rizoli. Lovely, who is the general counsel for the Archdiocese of Boston, said his client is willing to talk to the Rizolis.

Joe Rizoli, and his brother, Jim, said after the hearing they want to continue taping public events and they want to meet with Pranzo. The pair frequently use footage from public events on a local cable TV show about illegal immigration.

"We'll see if we can work it out," said Jim Rizoli shortly after the hearing.

Jim Rizoli said the brothers tried to meet with archdiocese representatives for about a month after the incident, but never heard back. That's when they filed the court complaint, he said.

"We didn't want to be (expletives) and take a priest to court," said Jim Rizoli.

A court clerk wouldn't comment about the hearing or disclose the hearing officer's name.

Among those in the courtroom were Town Manager Julian Suso, Deputy Police Chief Ken Ferguson and Framingham resident Harold Wolfe.

Lovely said the Rizolis mentioned during yesterday's hearing they contacted another priest at St. Tarcisius, but no one approached the archdiocese.

The Rizolis have posted an online video of the encounter at the church, which lasts only a few seconds. It isn't clear what exactly transpired.

A man's voice is heard on the recording saying, "You don't take pictures, or you'll be out of here, like the last time."

In March 2008, Pranzo ordered the Rizolis out of St. Tarcisius when the pair tried to record a candidates' forum. Three police officers escorted the brothers out.

Pranzo later told the Daily News that the brothers "look down on people" and Pranzo didn't want the footage to be used to harass his parishioners.

During yesterday morning's hearing, about 40 people crowded in the second-floor hallway outside the courtroom, waiting for word on whether Pranzo would face trial.

The group was organized by the Metropolitan Interfaith Congregations Acting for Hope, a organization of local faith communities.

The Rizolis exited first, and after a moment, they were followed by Pranzo and Lovely. The crowd applauded loudly enough at the appearance of Pranzo that a pair of court officers ran up the stairs to quiet them down and have them leave the building.

Pranzo's supporters, including state representatives Pam Richardson, D-Framingham, and Tom Sannicandro, D-Ashland, appeared at a prayer vigil outside the courthouse before the hearing.

"The community needs to stand together," said Sannicandro, whose family has ties to St. Tarcisius and to Pranzo.

Kathleen Hepler, pastor of First Parish Unitarian-Universalist Church in Framingham, said representatives from several congregations were among Pranzo's supporters, including St. Stephen's Church in Framingham, Christ Lutheran Church in Natick and Temple Shir Tikva in Wayland, as well as Pranzo's home parish.

Hepler said Pranzo has been a local community leader for years, and said Rizoli's complaint was a "waste of resources and time for a person who's spent his life serving people."

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