Two new lawsuits filed against supervisors of late Fairhaven priest
By Steve Urbon
South Coast Today
January 22, 2015
FAIRHAVEN — A town resident is one of two men who have filed sexual abuse lawsuits in Bristol Superior Court against priests within the Diocese of Fall River, alleging they failed for years to properly supervise and protect children from a predatory priest, identified as the late James R. Nickel.
They accuse Nickel of committing various lewd acts on many occasions, but years apart. Those named in the lawsuits are accused of failing to properly monitor and supervise Nickel, but not of committing the actual abuse.
The Fairhaven plaintiff, in his 40s, is maintaining anonymity. He charges that he was abused during the 1980s at St. Mary's parish in Fairhaven, where Nickel was assigned for several years by the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary, based on Adams Street.
The second plaintiff, Brian Blackmore, now in his mid-50s, living in Orlando, Florida and unrelated to the first plaintiff, once lived on Cape Cod, where he alleges the abuse took place at the Holy Trinity Church in West Harwich.
Two of the order's priests still living in Fairhaven were accused of inadequate supervision: Gabriel Healey and William Heffron.
Also accused are two as yet unnamed priests, along with former Fall River Bishop Daniel Cronin, who now lives in Connecticut.
The suits, filed on New Year's Eve by prominent abuse victims attorney Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, seek undisclosed damages.
Wednesday at noon, the home of the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts was picketed by a lone man, victims advocate Dr. Robert M. Hoatson, to call attention to the lawsuits. Such actions often bring more victims to the surface, said Hoatson, a former priest.
Garabedian said that the Fall River diocese has become very hard-line in resisting settlements in abuse cases, which continue to surface, hence the publicity push after just three weeks. He said that the diocese has known about the pending lawsuits for months, yet has not responded or accepted mediation.
Garabedian filed an earlier suit on behalf of another one of Nickel's victims, a suit that was settled "in six figures" a year later, he said. It is not surprising, he said, that two more victims would come forward at roughly the same time, because in his view predator priests abuse hundreds of children over a period of years.
He said he even had a case some time ago of an 89-year-old man who waited until his friends and relatives were gone before revealing that he had been abused by a priest in 1938.
"It's endless," he said. Victims are always emerging when they have reached the point where they have the courage and the will to do it. The trouble is, most victims feel like they are all alone."
Those at the Sacred Hearts home Wednesday would not comment on the suits.
The diocese issued a statement describing the lawsuit with this added:
The diocese will now begin an investigation of the claims in the lawsuits as best it is able given that the accused is deceased. The findings of the investigations will determine how the diocese will proceed with the resolution of the cases.
"It is important to note that the Fall River Diocese takes all allegations of sexual abuse very seriously and has had in place for over 20 years stringent policies and procedures designed to prevent abuse. It is likewise committed to helping victims of abuse to heal through counseling and other supportive services."