|Former New Bedford Pastor Removed from Ministry Amid Sex Probe
By Karen Jeffrey
March 18, 2008
FALL RIVER — A Catholic priest who served as pastor of a New Bedford church i n the mid-1980s has been removed from the ministry after an investigation into alleged sexual abuse in Taunton 29 years ago.
No criminal charges have been filed against the Rev. Bento R. Fraga, but notice of allegation has been sent to district attorneys in Barnstable and Bristol counties, where Fraga served in churches from 1956 to 2006.
The Fall River diocese includes much of Southeastern Massachusetts, including Cape Cod and the Islands.
Fraga worked in the Fall River diocese more than 50 years. He was pastor of St. John the Baptist Church in New Bedford from 1985 to 1987.
Fraga was pastor at St. Peter the Apostle Parish in Provincetown from 1987 to 1992. No allegations arising out of his time in Provincetown have been made to the diocese to date, according to diocesan spokesman John Kearns. Notifying district attorneys is church policy and should not be construed as a suggestion that any other allegations have been made, Kearns said.
Brian Glenny, the first assistant district attorney for the Cape and Islands, said his office was notified of the Taunton allegation last week.
He would not say if there have been any complaints about Fraga while he served in a Cape parish.
Speaking generally, Glenny said, "If we get notified about something like this, we try to see if there is any person we can speak to. If there is, we try to determine what happened, is it a viable case? Is the perpetrator alive? The victim alive?"
Fraga has denied the allegation, which involves a minor and reportedly took place in a private residence in Taunton. Whether he can be criminally prosecuted depends on a number of factors, including the statute of limitations.
That in and of itself "is a very complicated issue," Glenny said.
First, a prosecutor must determine what the statute of limitations was at the time of an alleged offense, and what the statute is now, he said. Among other things, it must also be determined when the incident was first disclosed and to whom, and whether the suspect remained in the state after the alleged offense. In some criminal cases the clock on the statute of limitations stops if the suspect leaves the state, and then starts up again when the suspect returns. And, all of this can vary from charge to charge, Glenny said.
The allegation was first made in January of this year, Kearns said. At the time, although retired, Fraga was allowed to minister and had been assisting in St. Paul's Parish in Taunton.
Despite Fraga's denial of the alleged abuse, an investigation by the Diocesan Review Board found the complaint to be credible, Kearns said.
As a result, Fraga will no longer be allowed to minister or to live in parish housing or the priests' retirement facility in the Fall River diocese, Kearns said.
James Cook, who attended St. Peter's in Provincetown during Fraga's tenure, said yesterday he had never heard any accusations made against the priest. "To be honest, he always struck me as conservative. I mean, he grew up in this big Catholic family in Taunton, had a sister who was a nun. He was kind of a Catholic's Catholic."
Fall River diocese Bishop George Coleman sent a letter to parishes where Fraga once served explaining Fraga's removal. The letter was distributed among parishioners during Masses this past weekend.
In a prepared statement, Coleman said he is "deeply troubled by this matter," and he understands how devastating the announcement may be for parishioners, family and friends of Fraga. Coleman offered his prayers for these people and asked that parishioners also pray for the person who made the allegation as well as Fraga.
Counselors from Catholic Social Services were present to offer support at Masses this weekend at the two parishes in Taunton where Fraga most recently served.
The diocese urged that anyone with relevant information contact Arlene McNamee of the Office of Child Protection of Catholic Social Services at (508) 674-4681, the Cape and Islands District Attorney's Office at (508) 362-8110, or the Bristol County District Attorney's Office at (508) 997-0711.
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