Another Dirty Secret

Cape Cod Times
November 29, 2003

Just when we were hoping that the priest sex-abuse scandal was under control, we learn another dirty little secret from the Catholic Church.

In 1986, then-Bishop Daniel Cronin of Fall River suspends a priest following allegations of pedophilia in the 1960s and 70s.

Because the statute of limitations has expired, the district attorney cannot file charges. So the priest, Gilbert Simoes, moves to Falmouth and becomes a regular substitute teacher at Falmouth High School from 1989 to 1998.

In effect, Cronin and the Fall River Diocese wash their hands of Simoes. Doesn't the diocese, including Cronin's successor, Sean O'Malley, now archbishop of Boston, have a responsibility to the community in which Simoes lives?

O'Malley became bishop of Fall River in 1992, and was widely credited with resolving the James Porter pedophilia case. But from 1992 to 1998, O'Malley apparently did little to monitor Simoes, who was teaching Portuguese at Falmouth High.

Why didn't someone within the diocese monitor this priest and make sure he was not placed in a position where he could re-offend? He was not defrocked. He remains ordained, even though he is prohibited from performing priestly functions.

If the diocese could not keep track of him as a suspended priest, would it have been better to have placed him in a supervised position within the diocese in which he would not have had any contact with children?

"Once we suspend him, we did not have the right to keep him under lock and key," said John Kearns, a spokesman for the diocese. Yes, but the diocese has the responsibility to supervise its priests, whether suspended or not, and protect the community from potential harm.

And once Simoes took the job at Falmouth High School, Kearns said, "he was under no obligation to report that to the diocese."

But the diocese was obliged to enroll him in a private treatment center for sexual offenders and then monitor him after his release.

Instead, the diocese basically lost track of an accused pedophile. Kearns said the diocese was unaware that he was teaching at Falmouth High. It's hard to believe that not one Cape priest, especially the priests assigned to Falmouth, was aware of Simoes' position at Falmouth High.

A couple years ago, the diocese appointed a liaison to keep track of suspended priests, something they should have done decades ago.

It's time for Bishop George Coleman, the current head of the Diocese of Fall River, to provide a full accounting of the relationship among Simoes and two other priests - the Rev. Bernard Kelly of Woods Hole and the Rev. Donald Turlick - in the public's case against Paul Nolin, who is accused of murdering 20-year-old Jonathan Wessner of Falmouth.

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