|Accused Charismatic Priest Resigns
By Bronislaus B. Kush
Telegram & Gazette
February 9, 2008
WORCESTER - The Rev. Joseph A. Coonan, the once popular Roman Catholic priest who was suspended from his priestly duties after allegations of bizarre sexual misconduct involving teenagers surfaced in 2002, has ended his long battle to persuade church officials that he should be allowed to resume his ministry.
Raymond L. Delisle, a spokesman for the Diocese of Worcester, said the Rev. Coonan has formally resigned as pastor of St. John Church on Temple Street. That action effectively ends the charismatic priest's reinstatement efforts.
Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, then head of the Worcester Diocese, removed Rev. Coonan in August 2002 after church officials decided that the allegations against the priest, known for his inspirational sermons and work among the downtown poor, were credible.
Rev. Coonan, however, refused to resign and appealed his case to Vatican authorities. Officials in Rome have yet to rule on the matter.
The allegations stemmed from Rev. Coonan's work as a camp counselor and teacher in Oxford during the 1970s.
Alleged victims stepped forth and accused Rev. Coonan of touching them sexually and urging them to urinate, defecate or masturbate in his presence.
Rev. Coonan's removal split parishioners at St. John, with supporters maintaining the charges predated his ordination in 1989 and that he should be judged solely on his actions as a clergyman.
The allegations, however, shocked others who, at one time, packed services officiated by the priest.
Rev. Coonan would often incorporate poetry and music into his sermons.
The priest's woes continued when he was arrested twice in 2006 on charges of assaulting his mother and sister, with whom he lived in Oxford. The charges were dismissed in both cases.
Bishop Robert J. McManus this week formally appointed the Rev. John F. Madden as St. John's new pastor. He had been serving for several months as the parish's administrator.
Rev. Coonan could not be reached for comment yesterday. Rev. Madden did not return a telephone call made by the Telegram & Gazette.
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