Embattled Priest Dies of Natural Causes
By Mary Beth Smetzer
Fairbanks News-Miner [Alaska]
May 9, 2006
The embattled former pastor of Fairbanks Immaculate Conception Church died in his sleep Sunday at Colombiere Jesuit Community in Portland, Ore.
The Rev. Richard L. McCaffrey was relieved of his pastoral duties a year ago by Fairbanks Catholic Diocese Bishop Donald Kettler following allegations of sexual abuse of minors 25 years ago in western Alaska. It is believed he died of natural causes.
Three months later, following an independent investigation by the diocese into three claims of sexual misconduct, Kettler officially removed McCaffrey from ministry in the diocese.
McCaffrey maintained his denial of any wrongdoing.
Parishioners of the historic downtown church were as surprised to learn Monday of McCaffrey's death as they were to learn of his suspension last Memorial Day weekend.
During the church's noon Mass, some parishioners wept openly when hearing the news for the first time.
A Jesuit news release stated that McCaffrey had serious health problems described as "longstanding cardiac and pulmonary problems."
Kettler expressed his sadness at McCaffrey's passing and is offering his prayers for the repose of his soul. No other statement was released by the chancery.
Anchorage attorney Ken Roosa, who represents plaintiffs June Doe 1 and 2 in civil suits against McCaffrey, the diocese and the Society of Jesus, Oregon Province, said McCaffrey's death is a disappointment.
"We really wanted to question him in depositions," Roosa said.
Roosa said that McCaffrey's alleged victims also wanted to confront the priest face to face in court.
McCaffrey's death will not alter the continuation of the lawsuits that have been filed to date.
The priest's tenure in Alaska began in 1967 as a Jesuit scholastic. He taught at Copper Valley, a Catholic mission school, and returned to the state every summer until his ordination in 1973. Afterward, he served at Sacred Heart Cathedral for three years, left the state for a year on sabbatical and training, and returned to minister in many villages and towns, including Toksook Bay, Hooper Bay, Scammon Bay, Bethel, Russian Mission, Marshall, Barrow, Tanana and Fairbanks.
He also spent time as diocesan chancellor in the early 1980s. He was pastor in Bethel for 10 1/2 years before being transferred back to Fairbanks in 1998 as pastor at Immaculate Conception.
After Monday's Mass, parishioners spoke quietly outside the church remembering their former pastor.
"He'll be terribly missed," said Judy Wise, who had visited McCaffrey in Portland two months ago. "He was a much-loved pastor."
Heidi Doudna, tears in her eyes, nodded in agreement, saying he often spent holidays with her family.
"He was very easy to talk to. He always had lots of stories," she said.
Rose Walsh remembers McCaffrey's sense of humor, his homilies without notes and his weekly tip on how to recycle the church newsletter.
"We were always waiting for that, and it was always funny," Walsh said.
A Mass to remember McCaffrey will be held Wednesday on the same day of his burial.
Mary Beth Smetzer can be reached at email@example.com or 459-7546.
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