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  Pedophile Priest Using Computer in Prison

By Rob Margetta
Standard-Times [Massachusetts]
February 15, 2006

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/daily/02-06/02-15-06/02topstories.htm

The Rev. Stephen A Fernandes, a Catholic priest who pleaded guilty last year to downloading hundreds of pieces of child pornography, has not received any sex offender treatment in jail but has been taking computer classes, documents show.

The priest, who was pastor of Our Lady of Fatima Church in New Bedford's far North End, amassed about 650 pictures and 114 videos before his arrest on Nov. 5, 2004.

Prosecutors said the Rev. Fernandes also posed as a young woman and convinced a 16-year-old boy he met in a chat room to masturbate in front of a video camera and e-mail him the video file.

His sex offender release notification, sent from the Dukes County House of Correction where the Rev. Fernandes is being held, to the Bristol County District Attorney's Office lists the programs he participates in as "Institutional Assignment: Laundry" and "Education: Computer."

"It should be noted that there is not any Sex Offender Treatment Program at this facility," the letter says.

It also says the Rev. Fernandes is in protective custody and no disciplinary actions have been taken against him. The priest is scheduled for June 22 release, contingent on him earning deductions from his sentence for good behavior. At that time, he would be required to register as a sex offender.

Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr. said yesterday that he is baffled as to why Judge Robert Kane sent the Rev. Fernandes to the jail on Martha's Vineyard.

"I have no idea why it happened," he said.

At the Rev. Fernandes' Nov. 28 sentencing hearing, prosecutors lobbied for a three-year term in a state prison.

Judge Kane opted for eight months at Dukes County and a $20,000 fine. The terms of his four-year probation include 300 hours of community service, abstention from drugs and alcohol, sex offender treatment, and a ban on living with or having unsupervised contact with minors.

"The court hands down these conditions, then sends him to a place with no sex offender treatment," Mr. Walsh said. "That's very bizarre."

All inmates who are entered into the state prison system are assessed to determine whether they require sex offender treatment, according to the state Department of Correction.

"The inmate must agree to the treatment, though," spokeswoman Diane Wiffin said.

Prisoners at the Bristol County House of Corrections also have access to sex offender treatment, the Sheriff's Department said.

Mr. Walsh said he does not know what sort of computer education the Dukes County House of Corrections offers, although he believes that the Rev. Fernandes should be kept away from any program involving computers.

"I don't know what access they have there. I don't know what kind of supervision they have there, and why is it necessary?" he said.

The office of Dukes County Sheriff Michael A. McCormack, which runs the house of correction, did not return several calls yesterday.

The district attorney called Dukes County "the country club of houses of correction." A converted clapboard house built in the 1800s, the prison holds just over two dozen inmates and features amenities such as cable televisions in cells.

"I don't think Stephen Fernandes should be treated any worse than anyone else who has committed those crimes," Mr. Walsh said. "But I certainly don't want him to be treated any better."

At the hearing where Rev. Fernandes pleaded guilty to possessing and disseminating child pornography last September, two months before his sentencing, Judge Kane said he probably would hand down a term of six months to a year.

The judge's office said yesterday that legally, he could not comment on why he chose Dukes County for the Rev. Fernandes.

Former Superior Court Judge Christopher Byron, who retired in 1992, said treatment options are not a judge's priority when assigning a prison sentence.

"I would first consider the punishment," he said. "As ancillary to that punishment, I would consider treatment. ... During the probation, you could impose treatment."

The diocese of Fall River, which oversees Our Lady of Fatima Church, said yesterday that the Rev. Fernandes has been stripped of his abilities to minister and will not be allowed to return to the ministry. He has not been laicized, a process that would completely remove him from the priesthood.

"Whether that will be done in this case is under review," spokesman John Kearns said.

A bishop can strip a priest's ability to minister, removing him from his duties, with a letter, Mr. Kearns said.

Laicization has to be handled through the Congregation of the Clergy, located at the Vatican.

"It takes a while," Mr. Kearns said.

Contact Rob Margetta at rmargetta@s-t.com

 
 

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