Counseling Offered after Sentencing of Parish Priest
Bishop George Coleman Announces Professional Counseling Will Be Available to Parishioners Affected by Father Stephen A. Fernandes, Who Was Sentenced on Child Pornography Charges This Week
By C. Eugene Emery Jr.
Providence Journal [Fall River MA]
November 30, 2005
FALL RIVER -- The Diocese of Fall River has said it will offer professional counseling to parishioners who feel they need it in the wake of this week's sentencing of Father Stephen A. Fernandes, 55, on charges of possession and distribution of child pornography.
A statement released by the diocese says Bishop George Coleman "is concerned, first and foremost, for the parishioners of Our Lady of Fatima Parish in New Bedford, where Father Fernandes was serving at the time of his arrest, as well as for the people of other parishes where he served."
Fernandes was sentenced to serve eight mouths at the Duke's County House of Correction on Martha's Vineyard and will be eligible for parole in three months. Investigators found about 650 pictures and 114 videos on his laptop of children engaging in sex acts.
Fernandes remains on administrative leave, as he has since his arrest a year ago. While on leave, he is not allowed to function as a priest.
His fate in the diocese remains uncertain.
"We have no policy" on what to do in such circumstances, said spokesman John Kearns. As a result, "the bishop will have to decide in this particular case."
If a decision is made to defrock Fernandes -- a process formally known as laicization -- the request to remove him from the priesthood would have to be sent from the diocese to the Vatican.
No announcement would be made unless the Vatican approved it, said Kearns.
The statement from the diocese notes that parishioners have a right to expect "that their priests will live lives of certain virtue and it is disturbing when they fall short, and particularly jarring when their actions are criminal."
The statement says Coleman hopes "that the completion of the legal phase of this case will in some way help people move beyond the hurt and disappointment it has engendered."
The counseling can be arranged through Catholic Social Services at 508-674-4681.
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