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  Priest Pleads Innocent in Porn Case
The Rev. Stephen Fernandes, Formerly of Hyannis, Is Said to Be Despondent

By Steve Urbon
Cape Cod Times [New Bedford MA]
November 9, 2004

NEW BEDFORD - Confronted with evidence of child pornography on his computer, the pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church slumped in his chair, put his head down on the table, and told his bishop, "This will kill my father."Thomas Carroll, investigator for the district attorney, related the scene Oct. 29 in an affidavit for an arrest warrant for the Rev. Stephen A. Fernandes, who pleaded innocent in court yesterday.

In the affidavit, he described what happened, as told to him by those present: a despondent priest, being removed from his post, muttering that his reputation was ruined, and "it's all over."

The former pastor of St. Francis Xavier Church in Hyannis from 2000 to 2002 was in court yesterday on a charge of possession of child pornography and was released on $5,000 cash bail.

Fernandes, 54, remained stony-faced, stared straight ahead and didn't speak a word as his attorney, Hugh Curran, entered his plea before Judge David Turcotte in New Bedford District Court.

Fernandes was required by the court to surrender his passport by noon yesterday. He will be back in court Dec. 28 for a pretrial hearing.

There were no apparent supporters in the courtroom, which was crowded with people with other matters before the bench, mostly petty crimes and motor vehicle violations.

No comment to press

After the arraignment, Fernandes was accompanied by his lawyer to a car awaiting him at the courthouse steps. They left without speaking to the collection of TV and press photographers swarming them as they emerged from the building.

Diocesan funds are not being used to pay Fernandes' legal fees, spokesman John Kearns said.

According to an affidavit written by Carroll of the Bristol County District Attorney's office, Fernandes was called back from one of his frequent New York trips and abruptly relieved of his pastoral duties by Bishop George Coleman on Oct. 29. Diocesan officials had been tipped off by technicians hired by the priest to repair his laptop computer.

On the morning of Oct. 27, Arlene McNamee, director of Catholic Social Services in the diocese and coordinator of a satellite office on South Street in Hyannis, was contacted by computer repair workers at DEG Associates of Fall River after technicians came across the illicit material, according to a timeline of events leading up to Fernandes' arrest. Diocesan officials released the timeline yesterday.

In an attempt to clear up a computer virus, they discovered what police later determined to be thousands of "pornographic depictions" and 115 child pornography videos involving boys and men. (An earlier affidavit put the number at 150.)

Computer turned over to DA

McNamee, having confirmed that it appeared to be child pornography on the computer, turned the computer over to Bristol County District Attorney Paul Walsh's office that same afternoon. The Massachusetts Department of Social Services was also notified, in keeping with the law and with diocesan policy in place since the early years of Bishop Sean P. O'Malley's tenure in the 1990s. The policy was created in the wake of the child molestation scandal involving the Rev. James Porter of Fall River.

According to Carroll's affidavit for the arrest warrant, Fernandes collapsed in his chair during the three-hour meeting with the bishop. Carroll said Bishop Coleman told him the priest's main concern was for his elderly father.

A counselor in the meeting, Dr. Jonathan Schwartz, said Fernandes had told him, "It's too bad I can't vanish." After a private meeting, Schwartz told Coleman Fernandes kept uttering, "such a disgrace, such a disgrace" and "talked about the good people of Our Lady of Fatima parish."

Carroll wrote that Lucy Pinto of East Freetown, the secretary/bookkeeper at the parish, said only three people had ever stayed overnight at the rectory, and they were all adults.

Gay videos also found

The parish house was never visited by children, and no one apart from Pinto, the housekeeper and the computer technicians ever visited Fernandes' second-floor quarters, according to Carroll.

Investigators who searched the parish house while executing a search warrant seized another computer, books on gay sexuality and gay men in the church, and several sexually explicit gay videos.

Kearns, the spokesman, said investigators think Fernandes' computer was first purchased when he was assigned to St. Francis. Kearns was not aware of any allegations against the priest coming from parishioners or staff who interacted with him while he was assigned to the Hyannis parish.

But Kearns said anyone on the Cape with any pertinent information related to the investigation should report it immediately to the Bristol County District Attorney's office.

Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe yesterday said his office has not been contacted about any allegations involving Fernandes while he was pastor at St. Francis.

As the police continue their investigation, Coleman will meet with the Our Lady of Fatima Parish Council and name a priest to serve as interim administrator until a pastor can be found.

 
 

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