Pastor Granted Leave from Parish Wracked by Abuse Case
By Marie Szaniszlo
October 19, 2000
The head of the parish where Middleton youth worker Christopher Reardon is accused of sexually abusing boys has taken a sabbatical.
In a letter to parishioners last weekend, the Rev. Jon C. Martin said he was leaving St. Agnes Church "for a short time."
"This last year has been a tremendous challenge to me personally," Martin wrote. "I have come to realize that I now need to take a step back. I am seeking some help, so for spiritual reasons . . . the diocese has arranged a sabbatical for me. Please keep me in your prayers."
The letter came roughly two weeks after Reardon, the church's youth-ministry coordinator, was indicted on three new charges in what Essex County District Attorney Kevin Burke has called the largest child abuse investigation in state history.
In all, Reardon faces 125 counts involving 29 boys he allegedly abused within the past five years at his Middleton home, his office at St. Agnes and a basement utility room at the Danvers YMCA, where he was a swim instructor.
A pre-trial conference is scheduled for today, but Reardon is not expected to attend, according to a spokesman for the district attorney's office. He remains in jail without bail while the investigation continues.
Prosecutors allege Reardon targeted hundreds of boys through his positions at St. Agnes and the YMCA, and kept computer-generated lists naming more than 300 with whom he had contact.
Yesterday, John Walsh, an archdiocese spokesman, said he was unaware Martin had taken a sabbatical and was unsure whether Bernard Cardinal Law plans to visit the parish after he returns later this month from a meeting in Rome.
"I was told to be prepared to spend eight to 12 weeks," said the Rev. Stephen Healy, who is overseeing St. Agnes in Martin's absence. ". . . If all of this had gone on in my parish, I think I'd need a vacation, too."
In June, shortly after the allegations against Reardon surfaced, Martin nearly collapsed during a service and had to be helped from the pulpit.
"We need mercy," he said, crying and stamping his foot. "We need prayer. There are good things happening in this parish, and you know it."
"We love you, Father," one man shouted as the congregation rose to its feet in a standing ovation.
"He's been their spiritual leader, and they love him," Healy said yesterday. "He brought them through all this. They just hope that he's OK."
"I feel terrible for everyone all the way around," said Frances Tambini, who's attended St. Agnes Church for four years.
"It must have been a terrible shock to him . . . He's a wonderful priest. I definitely support him, and I'm praying for him to get well."
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