|Priest Dies after Allegation; Sex Abuse Victims Respond
January 15, 2010
Statement by Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, Outreach Director of SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests
Our hearts ache for everyone here - the alleged victim or victims and their families, as well as for Fr. Thomson's loved ones, his Plainville MA flock and his Jaffrey NH neighbors. Everyone involved deserves more honesty and caring from Boston's Catholic hierarchy.
It's outrageous that, even now, Catholic officials can't be honest and forthcoming about clergy sex abuse reports - either with the public, the press or their parishioners. When a child sex abuse report is deemed credible, it is reckless to delay disclosing it for almost any reason, even for one day (especially if the accused is alive and in a parish). Each day a bishop keeps quiet about a credible accusation, he's doing a potential felon a huge favor. Such delays give possible criminals ample time to destroy evidence, fabricate alibis, intimidate witnesses, threaten victims, and even flee the country. Such delays are also hurtful and callous to those who report these alleged crimes.
(One noteworthy example: In 2006, Santa Rosa CA Bishop Daniel Walsh delayed at least three days before reporting a credible abuse allegation against Fr. Xavier Ochoa. Ochoa quickly fled to Mexico. http://www.bishop-accountability.org/news2006/05_06/2006_06_22_Kovner_OfficialsFault.htm Across the country, several dozens alleged predator priests have also fled overseas.)
If a credible child sex abuse report is made on Monday, it's selfish, irresponsible and dangerous for a bishop to hide this information until next Sunday's masses.
It's also wrong and hurtful for bishops to keep secrets about the time lapse between when a child sex report is received and when it's deemed credible. Catholics and citizens are left wondering "Did Cardinal O'Malley on this report for 12 days, 12 weeks, or 12 months?" Once again, an archbishop violates the allegedly-binding national church policy that supposedly mandates ''openness and transparency" in child sex cases. And once again, he will suffer no consequences for his self-serving and insensitive secrecy.
Over the years, as church officials become more experienced in dealing with abuse reports, it should take less time to determine what's credible and what's not. Instead, across the country, we're seeing more and more church officials taking longer and longer to act on child sex abuse allegations, in direct contradiction to the promises made in 2002 by all American bishops to move quickly in child sex cases.
We sympathize with Thomson's wounded flock. We hope they push O'Malley to attend to attend Wednesday's meeting, and we hope they will fight hard for straight answers from Boston Catholic officials. We hope they won't be appeased by meaningless apologies, from O'Malley or other church staffers. We hope they'll insist on real reforms. And finally, we hope that O'Malley's continuing irresponsible and secretive misdeeds will bolster efforts to reform Massachusetts' archaic, predator-friendly child sex laws that leave victims few options but to report serious crimes to biased, untrained amateurs in church offices instead of to independent, experienced professionals in law enforcement.
Despite Thomson's death, it's important that anyone with knowledge of these alleged misdeeds comes forward so that the truth can be known.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, is the nation’s oldest and largest support group for clergy abuse victims. We’ve been around for 21 years and have more than 9,000 members across the country. Despite the word “priest” in our title, we have members who were molested by religious figures of all denominations, including nuns, rabbis, bishops, and Protestant ministers. Our website is SNAPnetwork.org)
Contact David Clohessy (314-566-9790 cell, 314-645-5915 home), Barbara Blaine (312-399-4747), Peter Isely (414-429-7259)
Plainville parish shocked by death of its priest
Abuse report surfaced 2 days before
By Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff | January 15, 2010
PLAINVILLE - The Rev. J. Garret Thomson, a jovial, down-to-earth priest, seemed in great spirits Jan. 3 when he said Sunday Mass at St. Martha’s Church here.
“It was a wonderful Mass,’’ said Michael Lewicki, who served as lector that morning. “I was glad to be a part of it.’’
The next day, with no notice to the parish, Thomson was placed on administrative leave by the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston because of sexual-assault allegations. Thomson was found dead two days later on the bedroom floor of his home in Jaffrey, N.H.
The New Hampshire medical examiner’s office ruled that Thomson, 55, died Jan. 6 of natural causes and that high blood pressure and diabetes contributed to his death.
But some parishioners say the priest appeared to be able to control his diabetes, and they worried that Thomson’s death may have been brought on by news of the allegations.
The circumstances have added outrage to tragedy for others, who said the archdiocese kept them in the dark about the reasons for Thomson’s leave.
“There’s some real anger out there right now,’’ said Jim Denson, a parishioner and member of the local Knights of Columbus. “Oh, boy, some folks are really smoking over it.’’
The archdiocese, nine days after Thomson’s death, has not formally informed the parish why its only priest was placed on leave. Parishioners did not hear of the leave until last weekend, when Bishop John Dooher included the news in remarks from the pulpit while offering condolences about Thomson’s death.
A question-and-answer session about the leave is scheduled Wednesday at St. Martha’s. But the two-week delay between Thomson’s leave and that meeting, particularly after the secrecy that cloaked the archdiocese’s sexual-abuse scandal, has infuriated many parishioners, Denson said. “We thought, my gosh, what happened to the transparency?’’ Denson said. “Why wasn’t the rest of the parish told what was going on, so people could have a dialogue?’’
Mark Dunderdale, director of the archdiocese’s Office of Professional Standards and Oversight, said the archdiocese routinely waits for weekend Masses after an administrative leave to inform the affected parish.
Dunderdale and Kelly Lynch, an archdiocesan spokeswoman, said yesterday that Thomson had been accused of the sexual abuse of a minor. The alleged abuse occurred about 15 years ago, the church officials said. They declined to say when the charge had surfaced.
“The thing that has some parishioners upset is the correlation between the leave and the death,’’ said Raymond La Rocca, grand knight of the Knights of Columbus here. “It was a very sudden leave, he left the premises very suddenly, and his death was very sudden. That raises a lot of questions.’’
During an administrative leave, a priest is barred from performing any public part of his ministry, including saying Mass or presenting himself as a priest, Lynch said.
After being informed of the leave by Dunderdale, Thomson went to his home in Jaffrey. He was contacted there by phone by a family friend, who told police that Thomson was hoarse and vomiting the night of Jan. 5. The friend, Patricia Sweeney, planned to visit him the next day but could not reach him by phone.
Her son, Christopher of Fitchburg, also could not contact Thomson and drove to Jaffrey on the morning of Jan. 6 to check on the priest. When no one answered the door, Sweeney, who is a Maynard police officer, entered through a rear window and found Thomson lying unresponsive on the floor.
It appeared that Thomson had been sick in bed - the sheets were soiled, and a trash can had been placed at the bedside - and that he had fallen and struck his head on a closet, police reported. Emergency personnel declared him dead. No signs of foul play were seen, police said.
During interviews with police, Sweeney told authorities about the sexual-assault allegation and said that “there is a civil thing going on in that a victim is looking for money so that he can get counseling,’’ Sergeant Scott Stevens wrote in his report.
Dunderdale would not comment on that. With Thomson’s death, he said, the church’s investigation into the sexual-abuse allegation has been closed.
But some parishioners wonder whether the allegations contributed to Thomson’s death. The timing led Stevens to speculate in his report that the priest might have taken his life.
However, Stevens added in the report, no visible evidence of suicide was found. Toxicology results from Thomson’s autopsy might not be available for months.
The death has stunned St. Martha’s, where parishioners described Thomson as a warm, open, and vibrant pastor.
“He engaged with the parish in every respect,’’ La Rocca said. “And he engaged everyone, even the parishioners who did the outside work like plowing and repainting the lines in the parking lot.’’
Denson said that his three sons served as altar boys and that Thomson was a recent dinner guest at his home.
“He was the kind of priest that you hoped to have,’’ Denson said. “One of his strongest traits was a very powerful compassion. Even in giving a sermon or if someone got sick or a child died of cancer, the man would almost break into tears. That always hit me hard.’’
Thomson previously served at St. Mary Magdalen’s in Tyngsborough, St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center in Brighton, St. Joseph’s in Medway, Immaculate Conception in Marlborough, St. Bridget’s in Maynard, and St. Mary’s in Randolph.
In his last message on the parish website, posted shortly after Christmas, Thomson wrote of the benefits of the sacrament of penance.
“The scary part,’’ he wrote, “is in looking at oneself and admitting that I’m not perfect and that I need love to forgive me, to heal me, and to give me the inspiration of hope.’’
MacQuarrie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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