Priest in Child Porn Probe
The Rev. Stephen Fernandes, Former Pastor of a Hyannis Church, Will Be Arraigned Monday
By Steve Urbon
The Cape Cod Times [New Bedford MA]
November 4, 2004
NEW BEDFORD - The former pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis, the Rev. Stephen A. Fernandes, was arrested yesterday and charged with possession of child pornography.
An affidavit for a search warrant in the case revealed that the investigation began after computer repair technicians summoned by Fernandes allegedly discovered a trove of child pornography involving men and boys on his laptop computer, and called the diocese to report it.
Fernandes, 54, currently the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church in New Bedford, was arrested by state police at a medical facility in Pembroke on a warrant that was issued yesterday. He was taken to the Ash Street Jail for booking and will be arraigned Monday in district court, said Joseph DeMedeiros, a spokesman for Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr.
Fernandes was placed on administrative leave a week ago by Fall River Diocese Bishop George Coleman after allegations surfaced about the priest.
Fernandes was appointed pastor at St. Francis Xavier in Hyannis, one of the Cape's largest parishes, in 2000, by former Fall River Bishop Sean P. O'Malley, who was chosen as the successor to Cardinal Bernard Law to lead the Boston Archdiocese after the clergy sex-abuse scandal.
In mid-2002, Fernandes was transferred to Our Lady of Fatima in New Bedford, a move also approved by O'Malley.
Fernandes refused to answer investigators' questions when approached on Oct. 29, just after being dismissed by the bishop, according to Assistant District Attorney Tom Carroll in his affidavit.
Carroll said the computer technicians' discovery was verified by police specialists, which estimated that there were 5,000 "pornographic depictions" on the computer's hard drive, along with "150 child pornography movies." There was no indication of the origin of the movies or pictures.
At Masses last weekend, shocked parishioners learned from Monsignor John A. Perry, vicar general of the diocese, that Fernandes, their pastor of two years, was put on administrative leave for "gross misconduct."
The district attorney, without naming him or the parish, issued a brief press release Monday saying that an investigation involving child pornography had begun, and he praised the bishop for his quick action in the case.
On Monday, investigators led by Carroll searched the parish house in New Bedford, especially Fernandes' second-floor bedroom and study.
They seized evidence that includes adult gay pornographic videos, and several books concerning such things as adolescent male sexuality and the religious life of gay men.
They also seized the hard drive of a second computer, one on the priest's desk, and several computer discs and videotapes.
According to Carroll's affidavit, the discoveries began Monday morning, Oct. 25, when Fernandes called DEG Associates in Fall River, a computer repair shop. He said his laptop computer appeared to have viruses, and he asked the company to pick it up at the parish house, when technicians also could fix a problem with the desktop computer.
Later that day, when DEG technician Timothy Perry could not clean a virus-infected file, he opened it and found that it was child pornography. He reported that "there were men and boys, all naked bodies," Carroll wrote.
Perry called in his boss, David Gauthier, who called the diocese. After the director of Catholic Social Services, Arlene McNamee, viewed some of the files herself, along with some e-mails that were sexual in nature, DEG gave her the computer, which was owned by the diocese and purchased at Fernandes' last assignment, in Hyannis.
The affidavit says McNamee contacted the diocese's attorney, Frederick Torphy, and the two of them turned the computer over to Carroll, who gave it to Detective Michael Ellsworth of Mansfield.
Detectives Ellsworth and David Papageris of the Metro Law Enforcement Computer Crime Division did a partial forensic check of the computer and "advised me that there was substantial child pornography located within the hard drive of the computer," Carroll wrote. They said the investigation would take a week to complete.
Carroll wrote, "Investigators to whom I have spoken, and my own personal experience, confirms that individuals who collect sexually explicit material will rarely, if ever, dispose of this material and will maintain these items in a secure area. It is also my experience that the collector of sexually explicit materials will maintain these items for many years."
DEG's owners did not return a call seeking comment yesterday.
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