Fall River Resources – 1993–1999
By Linda Matchan
Alleged victims of former Massachusetts priest James Porter reacted angrily yesterday to the announcement that Fall River Bishop Sean P. O'Malley has elevated to monsignor a Mansfield priest accused of witnessing acts of sexual abuse by Porter and failing to take action to stop it. Bishop O'Malley announced last Sunday that he had named Father Armando Annunziato, the pastor of St. Mary's Church in Mansfield, a monsignor, according to the Anchor, the newspaper of the Fall River diocese. The bishop made the announcement while delivering a homily during a Mass he was celebrating at the Mansfield parish.
The designation "monsignor" is a title of honor given as recognition of exceptional service to the church and it entitles priests so designated to wear red vestments similar to those of a bishop.
The newspaper did not indicate why Msgr. Annunziato, who was ordained in Rome in 1956, was selected for the honor. Nor did it make reference to the controversy that for the last year has dogged the priest, who has refused to discuss publicly allegations that on at least half a dozen occasions between 1960 and 1963, he interrupted Porter's alleged sexual molestations at St. Mary's Church in North Attleborough by knocking on doors and entering rooms where Porter was abusing youngsters.
The monsignor's accusers, now men and women in their 40s, have maintained that he declined to take action to stop Porter, who has since been indicted on charges that he sexually molested scores of boys and girls in three Fall River parishes during the 1960s, and who is now serving time in a Minnesota jail for molesting his children's babysitter in 1987.
Connie Lyons, the father of one alleged victim, has said that when he first learned in 1963 that Porter was molesting his son, he took the information to Father Annunziato, but was told by the priest that he could not do anything about it.
"I have personally told Bishop O'Malley my story about Father Annunziato and it is apparent that the bishop believes him and not the victims," said John Robitaille, an alleged Porter victim who says he recalls Father Annunziato watching him with Porter while he lay, disrobed, on the floor of the church basement where Porter had sexually abused him.
"In the final analysis, when [Father Annunziato] is called in front of the big judge, he will have to atone. We can't take this any further. I know what's in my heart and I know what I saw and what I remember. It is very vivid."
"It is a very regrettable action," said Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney representing 101 men and women who claim to have been victimized by Porter. "Our clients uniformly express anger about this. It's sort of a slap in the face to the people who came forward and gave their stories, and it is just apparent that the bishop didn't believe them or accept them."
A spokesman for the Fall River diocese could not be reached last night.
Msgr. Annunziato has denied repeated requests for interviews with the Globe, although WBZ-TV has reported that he denied to authorities that he witnessed Porter abusing children at St. Mary's church and said he knew nothing of the accusations against Porter until they surfaced last May.
A priest for almost 40 years, the new monsignor had been absent from his parish in Mansfield for several months while suffering from life-threatening throat cancer, according to an article published last week in the Sun Chronicle, which serves the Attleborough area. He was present in the church, however, for Bishop O'Malley's announcement that he had been made a monsignor.
That Sun Chronicle reported that Bishop O'Malley has written that Porter's victims are "sincere" in their belief that Msgr. Annunziato witnessed the incidents, but their memories "may have been confused" by the trauma of what had happened to them. The bishop's remarks were labelled "sickening" by Peter Calderone of North Attleborough, who said that he was sexually molested by Porter as an 11-year-old altar boy when Father Annunziato knocked on the door of Porter's office, suspiciously asked what was going on, and told Porter to go home.
"This is so aggravating," Calderone said. "How is it that six people's memories can have faded and one person's memory can be clear as a bell? It's almost like, you keep your mouth shut, and [the church] takes care of you. These guys are not even holy men. They are rewarding the guy. I am so upset about this, it is making me sick."
Rev. Armando Annunziato
St. Mary's Parish
Father Armando Annunziato began his pastoral duties at Saint Mary's Parish on June 10, 1981. Father Annunziato was instrumental in the building of the new Parish Center to accomodate the growing needs of the religious education programs and for other parish family activities as well. He was elevated to the rank of Monsignor by Bishop Sean O'Malley on March 7, 1993. Father Annunziato served as Pastor of Saint Mary's until his passing on August 31, 1993.
Bishop subpoenaed by nun's lawyer
By Joe Heaney
Fall River Bishop Sean O'Malley, facing a lawsuit by a respected nun he fired 15 months ago, has been subpoenaed to tell why he ousted Sister Michaelinda Plante, a key figure in a confusing mystery involving The Samaritans and the 1994 suicide of a Winchester man.
"I gave my life to Catholic education and, after 41 years as a nun, believe I am entitled to some answers affecting my future as an educator and counselor," Plante said yesterday.
O'Malley will be questioned by the nun's attorney, Boston criminal lawyer Robert A. George, in a deposition Dec. 11. His answers could determine whether Plante will file a wrongful termination suit.
O'Malley and diocesan officials have declined comment except to describe the issue as "a personnel matter handled by the diocesan education committee."
Diocesan spokesman John Kearns said: "We never comment on something in judicial process, but I don't think Sister Michaelinda's status was ever actually announced."
Speaking publicly for the first time on a strange, complex series of events, the 61-year-old Sister of Mercy and former associate superintendent of elementary schools for the Diocese of Fall River, explained:
"I did nothing wrong. I tried to resolve a controversy between friends and family of a student I once had in Winchester and The Samaritans in Fall River.
"For some reason the Samaratan director Ellie Leite and board members met with Bishop O'Malley July 19, 1994. I was never informed. There was no due process.
"On Aug. 15, 1994 I got a letter from my supervisors placing me on leave. I was subsequently locked out of my office. I resigned Sept. 10, 1994," Plante continued.
Yesterday Plante said she still did not know why she was placed on leave.
"I believe I'm entitled to a letter of recommendation from Bishop O'Malley and a second letter stating I did nothing wrong.
"I love the church; that's where my life is, but these events have made me cautious," Plante said.
The suicide victim, identified as Michael Ross, 26, a former Marine, was a student at St. Mary's Elementary School in Winchester while Plante was principal. She served 10 years (1974-1984) at the school before transferring to Fall River.
Ross, however, is not the victim's true name, but an alias insisted on by his father, who is known as retired Marine General John S. Ross.
Ross is an acronym for Reserve Officer Strategic Service. The retired general has told friends the alias is necessary for him and his international businesswoman wife, Elaine, to protect their identities for national security and privacy reasons.
Edward J. Florino, Medford director of Veteran Services, describes Ross as a close friend. And the general and his wife are also known to others.
The controversy arose when the Rosses attempted to thank The Samaritan chapter for consideration shown their son, a frequent caller on the chapter's Hot Line.
Susan Lyman, former chairwoman of the New England Division of the American Suicide Foundation, said she also failed after being asked to reconcile the dispute between the Rosses and The Samaritans.
"There must be a special name for the paranoia shown by the Fall River Samaritans. It was inexcusable," said Lyman, 77, adding that she thought Sister Michaelinda was a "divine human being."
Leite declined any comment, referring questions to Samaritan lawyer James Franchek who said: "The fact that Sister Michaelinda was terminated has nothing to do with the Samaratans. Those reasons are known only to the bishop."
Plante's lawyer George said: "I took this case only because this innocent woman has been terribly wronged and humiliated and someone is going to answer for it."
Fall River bishop denies he fired nun
By Joe Heaney
Faced with a Dec. 11 deposition and possible lawsuit in the unexplained 1994 dismissal of a highly regarded nun, Fall River Bishop Sean O'Malley yesterday denied Sister of Mercy Michaelinda Plante was ever fired.
"Sister Michaelinda was never dismissed from her position as associate superintendent of schools," O'Malley said in a prepared statement.
"She was placed on temporary administrative leave during which time she decided to tender a letter of resignation. At no time did the diocese ask for sister's resignation."
O'Malley stressed Plante was treated with "fairness and justice."
O'Malley's statement, however, failed to explain why Plante was placed on administrative leave. Plante said she has received no explanation for any disciplinary action against her.
Plante, 61, respected as an educator and as former principal of St. Mary's Elementary School, Winchester, said she was shocked when she received a letter from her supervisors placing her on indefinite leave Aug. 15, 1994.
"I was flabbergasted; I couldn't have been more surprised if the letter said they just found out I had a baby," Plante said yesterday.
"After that my phone was tapped, my mail checked and I was locked out of my office. I resigned Sept. 10, 1994 but couldn't get my belongings out of my office until Oct. 27.
"Besides that, I was forced from my living quarters and had to relocate in an empty convent in Rhode Island."
O'Malley's press release yesterday was the latest development in a continuing puzzle concerning Plante's attempt to mediate a dispute between Fall River Samaritans and family and friends of a Winchester suicide victim.
Curiously, the dispute arose when friends and relatives of the late Michael Ross, 26, who died in 1994 of suicidal injuries suffered a year earlier, launched a "praise campaign" for the Samaritans who had been highly considerate of Ross.
The Samaritans vigorously rejected the praise, including letters of commendation from many public officials, a plaque from the White House and $ 27,000 in donations from Ross' mother.
Boston trial lawyer Robert A. George, representing Plante, called O'Malley's explanation "self-serving and not founded on fact."
"Sister Michaelinda was forced from her job and living quarters in a very unfair way."
In a deposition last January Barbara Makowski, assistant director of the Fall River Samaritans said she was present at a meeting with O'Malley when the bishop said "she (Plante) was being removed from her position in a very short time."
Nun coverage concise
Letter to the Editor
In response to Joe Heaney's accurate coverage on Sister Michaelinda Plante, a Roman Catholic Sister of Mercy ("Sister was unjustly ousted," May 17):
The Samaritans keep confidences received on their 24-hour hotline.
The Fall River branch's search for the father of a boy who committed suicide is ludicrous; this is a smoke screen to avoid explaining why the group's board members visited the Most Rev. Sean O'Malley, bishop of the diocese of Fall River, and demanded that this beloved nun be removed from her post after serving more than 40 years.
Friends of Banished Nun to March at Law's Home
By Joe Heaney
Answers to the mysterious dismissal and banishment of a prominent Fall River nun will be sought Monday when friends of Sister Michaelinda Plante demonstrate outside the residence of Bernard Cardinal Law.
"We know Fall River is not in Cardinal Law's jurisdiction, but we hope he will still try to help someone who dedicated her life to the church," Jean La Torella, chairwoman of Friends of Sister Plante, said yesterday.
The support group is based in Winchester, where Sister Plante served 10 years as principal at Saint Mary's Elementary School.
John Walsh, a spokesman for Law, called the demonstration "trial by media. I respect the emotional attachment here, but am puzzled why they are in front of Cardinal Law's residence when he has no administrative jurisdiction over the Fall River diocese."
A Sister of Mercy, Plante, 62, was associate superintendent of elementary schools for the Diocese of Fall River until she was locked out of her office and resigned two years ago.
The dispute centers on an attempt Plante made to resolve a controversy between friends and family of a 26-year-old suicide victim - once a student at St. Mary's in Winchester - and The Samaritans of Fall River.
Plante says she was fired without due process after members of the suicide prevention group met with Fall River Bishop Sean O'Malley in July 1994.
A lawsuit for which O'Malley could be asked to testify has been filed by Plante in Norfolk Superior Court and charges the Samaritans with slander, defamation and harassment. A motion by the Samaritans to dismiss the suit is also pending.
Nun sues Fall River bishop over loss of job
By Joe Heaney
A Sister of Mercy alleging she was shown no mercy yesterday sued Fall River Bishop Sean O'Malley charging he wrongfully banished her from a top diocesan education post.
In the suit Sister Michaelinda Plante, 62, also sought unspecified damages from the Samaritans of Fall River alleging the suicide prevention chapter fed O'Malley false information.
"This is not a matter of money, we are not setting a price on anything. It is a matter of justice," said Plante's lawyer, Robert A. George of Boston.
Filed in Bristol Superior Court in Taunton, the suit is the latest development in a long, complex and confusing saga climaxing with Sister Plante's 1994 ouster.
She had been associate superintendent of elementary schools for the Fall River diocese since 1985. Before that, she was principal of St. Mary's Elementary School in Winchester.
A Norfolk Superior Court judge in September dismissed a defamation suit brought by Sister Plante against the Samaritans, ruling the litigation lacked burden-of-proof evidence.
The imbroglio surfaced when Sister Plante tried to mediate a dispute between a Winchester family with a suicidal son and the Samaritans after the family enacted a lavish "Praise Campaign" for help the Samaritans had provided their son.
The victim, who later killed himself, had once been a pupil at St. Mary's. Sister Plante said she intervened because she was a friend of the family.
The Samaritans said they felt the donations were excessive and were suspicious of the origins of some.
Because of Sister Plante's involvement, O'Malley was informed by the Samaritans the diocese would be sued if the campaign did not stop.
Boston attorney James S. Franchek, representing the Samaritans, and diocesan spokesman John Kearns both declined comment yesterday, saying they needed time to study the complaint.
"This suit is not a rehash of old charges, it's the suit that should have been brought in the first place," said George, who did not represent Plante in the defamation litigation.
"We have here a woman who served her church, her bishop and her school system for many years and got a big zero for her efforts," said George.
Sister Plante, who now lives in Tiverton, R.I., has drawn wide support in Winchester and Fall River. "I want my reputation restored so I can lead a normal life and get a job," she said.
Fired Fall River nun deserves day in court
Letter to the Editor
The Boston Herald's coverage of the Sister Michaelinda Plante case sparks renewed anger ("Church settles sex-abuse cases," June 3).
After four long years of waiting to have her day in court against the Fall River Diocese and the Fall River Samaritans, Sister Plante has been denied an opportunity to be heard in her wrongful termination suit.
Bishop Sean O'Malley and other religious leaders have been subpoenaed on several occasions and have never appeared, citing ecclesiastical privileges. This is the power of the church at work to quell her story. They shouldn't be above the law.
Jean La Torella,
Bishop Accountability © 2003