St. Mary's Prayerful after News of Pastor

By Tanya Connor
Catholic Free Press
November 24, 2006

Members of St. Mary Parish in Uxbridge expressed gratitude and support for their pastor after learning last weekend that Bishop McManus was placing him on leave because of a sexual misconduct confession. They expressed appreciation for how the bishop handled the situation and spoke of banding together, not leaving the Church.

Bishop McManus announced at all St. Mary's Masses last weekend that he was placing Father Paul J. Doherty on administrative leave "so as to undergo spiritual and psychological treatment," according to a press release from the diocesan Office of Communications.

"At Father Doherty's request, he and I met this past Friday, Nov. 17, at my residence in Worcester," Bishop McManus said in his announcement. "During that meeting Father confided to me that he had engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior with a minor more than thirty years ago. Because of the serious nature of this admission, I had to relieve Father of his duties as pastor of the parish and to remove his faculties as a priest."

"When a priest's faculties are removed, he cannot act in any public ministry and cannot present himself in public as a priest by wearing clerical clothing," explained Raymond L. Delisle, director of the diocesan Office of Communications. Diocesan bishops grant and remove faculties, not necessarily permanently, he said. This is different from laicization, by which Rome permanently removes a priest from the clerical state, he said.

"I truly realize that this kind of news is a shock for you as it has been for me," Bishop McManus told the congregation. "I ask that you join me in prayer for the parish and school communities, as well as for those who have been hurt in any way by sexual misconduct. And, of course, please keep Father Paul in your prayers."

Father Doherty, 58, became pastor there in 2000. Prior to entering seminary in 1991 he was an announcer and disk jockey for radio station WNEB in Worcester. He was ordained in 1995 and was associate pastor at St. Patrick Parish in Whitinsville and St. Mary Parish in Shrewsbury. Previous jobs and ministries included being announcer and operations manager at radio station WPLM in Plymouth, teaching music in public schools, serving with the Salesians of Don Bosco and helping at his parish, St. Christopher's in Worcester.

"As Bishop McManus revealed the heartbreaking news of his obligation to remove Father Paul as our pastor, my heart sank," parishioner Kathy Desjardin said in a letter she sent the parish.

"However, I felt an inner strength, having worked very closely with Father Paul over the last several years" with the faith formation program, Boy Scout Troup 25 and prayer shawl ministry. "I have every intention of continuing to serve the church."

She said a parishioner who had been sexually abused as a child told her it took her more than 40 years to forgive the perpetrator, who was not a priest. This woman asked that the parish forgive Father Doherty and wondered what they could do to console him, she said. Mrs. Desjardin suggested wrapping him in one of their prayer shawls, which they make as a way of praying and showing care for the sick and suffering.

"He's been suffering for about a month," Father John E. Kelley, St. Mary's senior priest, said of Father Doherty, adding that the pastor appeared very depressed.

JoAnn Larrivee, past chairwoman of the board of governors of Our Lady of the Valley Elementary School, a regional Catholic school behind the church, said she was at first cautious with Father Doherty, as she is with clergy in general.

In college she felt betrayed when the chaplain, a Catholic priest, died of sexually transmitted AIDS, she said. She left the Church, but returned upon realizing priests make mistakes too, she said. Over time she came to respect and love Father Doherty, she said.

"He loved the children," she said. "He was never inappropriate with the children. He went out of his way to make sure there was always another adult present. He greeted the children every day. He knew their names. He high-fived them. He knew what sports they played. He handed out report cards."

She said that after she and her husband and four children heard the bishop's announcement, she asked her 16-year-old, who is contemplating confirmation, if this changed anything for her.

"I know Father Paul for who he is today," her daughter responded. "What he did was 35 years ago. Aren't we supposed to forgive each other?"

Mrs. Larrivee said all her children asked, "Why aren't we forgiving him?" She said she responded, "We need to pray for Father Paul, but we also need to pray for the victim."

She said Father Doherty confessed and added, "That speaks volumes of the type of person he was."

Joseph Curran, a lector at St. Mary's, said this is different from several of the other clergy sexual misconduct cases because "here we have somebody accusing himself" of doing something before he was a priest.

"All of his dealings since he's been a priest have been above board," he said.

"I feel that many adults are carrying hidden crosses from their past," Mrs. Desjardin said. "The most important part for me is that he didn't use his position of power to hurt anyone or even to ask for special consideration. Perhaps he's grown into a deeper faith and needs to forgive himself. I think most people would find it difficult to admit such a thing, or consider it irrelevant, since it was so long ago."

Mrs. Larrivee said Father Doherty led the parish through the clergy sexual abuse crisis a few years ago, hearing confessions in the open and discouraging use of the confessional. And after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, he formed a prayer group with ministers of other churches.

"He went out of his way for tolerance and understanding," she said. "Whenever he led a discussion, everyone's views were respected."

Mrs. Desjardin said he empowered parishioners to take a lead in forming ministries and work as a caring community.

"Now it's time for us to put our faith into action and forgive as we are forgiven," she said. "If we take a look at the good pieces we can see there is quite a bit to work with and, for the sake of the next generation, we better learn to rebuild rather than tear apart."

Deacon Paul E. Brown, who has been serving St. Mary's for 12 years, said there are plans to hold a prayer/healing service soon.

"I've been overwhelmed with letters of support" for Father Doherty, he said, adding that these have also sustained him. Most people sympathize with the pastor, rather than saying, "I'm not coming back to church," he said.

Bishop McManus was very supportive of the staff, he said, adding, "It helped me personally that he was empathetic to our feelings."

"The Catholic Church is often referred to as the family of God," Bishop McManus told parishioners. "As your bishop, I have a serious pastoral responsibility for the spiritual care and well-being of this family. That is why I have come to this parish personally to share this very troubling news. A family rejoices together in good times and also grieves together in times of hurt and sadness. My fervent hope and prayer is that relying on each other's support and on God's grace we will work together as a parish and as a diocese to continue to make St. Mary Parish a strong and vibrant community of faith, hope and love. After the Masses this weekend, I will be here to meet with anyone who wishes to gaher in the rectory living room along with Mrs. Frances Nugent, co-director of the Office of Healing and Prevention. I pray that God's all powerful grace may bring you comfort and healing in the weeks and months ahead."

"We can be thankful for the bishop for being so straightforward and coming personally," Mrs. Desjardin told The Catholic Free Press.

"He was still reeling from it," Mrs. Larrivee said of the bishop's response after the 9 a.m. Mass Sunday. "He had tears in his eyes." She said she asked how the news would be handled at the school, and was told diocesan representives had arranged to meet with faculty and staff.

Father Kelley, who is temporarily assuming priestly responsibilities at St. Mary's, said it was very good of the bishop to meet with parishioners after Masses.

He also expressed appreciation for Father John Gallagher, of the Order of St. Camillus, who regularly helps out there, and the many priests who offered their prayers and support, and those of their parishioners, upon learning of Father Doherty's leave.

"I have found living and serving with Father Paul a real joy," he said. "We've really become brothers and good friends. I have found him to be prayerful, conscientious, patient, compassionate, generous and non-judgmental."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.