Goodwill allowed ‘credibly accused’ priest to visit schools in R.I.
By Brian Amaral
August 04, 2019
Kevin R. Fisette, who appears on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence’s list of clergy who’d been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing a minor, visited schools and worked in the presence of children after he got a new job at Goodwill, according to social media postings and school officials.
A man on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence’s list of clergy who’d been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing a minor visited schools and worked in the presence of children after he got a new job at Goodwill, according to social media postings and school officials.
Kevin R. Fisette, 64, was removed from ministry and resigned from his post as pastor of St. Leo the Great Church in Pawtucket in 2009 after a sexual-abuse allegation from the early 1980s — which the Diocese of Providence deemed credible but that his supporters say was unfounded — surfaced. By October 2010, he had a new job at Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island. From 2014 to 2018, social media posts showed him visiting Goodwill’s donation bins at Rhode Island schools.
Photos show Fisette posing with children at Burrillville Middle School, Leo Savoie Elementary School in Woonsocket, and St. Mary Academy-Bay View, an all-girls independent Catholic school in Riverside, while expressing appreciation to them for collecting donations for Goodwill.
Other photos posted online by Goodwill depict children. At Stony Lane Elementary School in North Kingstown, for example, a photograph shows several students and the principal posing for a photo with a certificate of appreciation from the organization. Fisette took the photograph, the district superintendent said.
Fisette did not respond to a reporter’s emails, text messages or phone messages.
None of the schools, reached recently by The Providence Journal, reported inappropriate conduct by Fisette at their schools. But all of those that responded said they were not aware of the 2009 allegation against him, which was publicly reported at the time.
“The district was never notified with concerns about him, and we were not made aware of the allegation,” Philip Auger, superintendent of the North Kingstown School District, said in an email. “If we had been notified, we would not allow him on one of our school campuses.”
First hired as a volunteer coordinator at Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island, Fisette became the director of donated goods for the nonprofit, which merged with a Connecticut-based organization to become Goodwill of Southern New England at the beginning of this year.
Goodwill of Southern New England fired Fisette as of July 16 after the Diocese of Providence published his name among a list of “credibly accused” priests and deacons on July 1.
Fisette has not been charged criminally or sued over the allegation, according to Rhode Island court records. When the attorney general’s office said in 2009 that it was not going to file a criminal case stemming from the allegation, a spokesman cited the statute of limitations as it stood in the 1980s and “inconsistencies” in the complainant’s recollection of events, The Providence Journal reported at the time.
Richard Borer, president of Goodwill of Southern New England, said that Fisette’s job at Goodwill “did not involve working with children.”
“His job description and responsibilities were as Director of Donated Goods / Volunteer Coordinator,” Borer said in an email. “None of which involves working with children.”
Borer did not respond to a follow-up question about postings on the Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island Facebook page showing Fisette at various Rhode Island schools, sometimes with children also in the pictures. Borer said he had terminated Fisette after learning that he was on the diocese’s list of credibly accused clergy on July 1.
Even in the office, Fisette was in the presence of young people: The Goodwill campus in Rhode Island, at 100 Houghton St. in Providence, shared space with the High Road School of Providence, which serves “students with a variety of social, emotional and learning needs.”
“The safety and security of students at the High Road School of Providence is our number one priority,” a representative for Catapult Learning, the private company that operates the High Road School, said in an email. “Our facility is located in a separate part of the building that’s accessible only with a key. At no time would the accused have had access to our students.”
Goodwill organizations around the country work with people to overcome barriers to employment, such as criminal histories and disabilities. It funds its work through its thrift shops as well as its donation bins.
Goodwill in Rhode Island has partnered with places like pharmacies, banks and schools to place donation bins on their properties where people can drop off unwanted goods. In Rhode Island, those are donated to job seekers or recycled to raise funds, according to the organization. The hosts of the bins can get a cut of the proceeds.
As director of donated goods, Fisette acted as the point person for the organization’s donation bin program. In that job, social media postings from Goodwill show, he checked in on the bins and presented its local partners with certificates and checks to thank them for hosting them.
Donna Coderre, the principal of Leo Savoie Elementary in Woonsocket, said she was not aware of the allegation against Fisette when he visited their school once in 2015. He was only among students briefly, and only when she was there, she said.
“My general impression was a positive gentleman who was doing his job by setting up bins and providing us an opportunity to raise some money for the school,” she said via email. “Again, he didn’t see our children after that initial set up or have any contact with our students. Our contact has been over email since that day.”
Michael Sollitto, the superintendent of Burrillville schools, said Fisette’s presence among children at the middle school was brief and always in the presence of staff.
“We were unaware of any accusations made against Mr. Fisette and did not receive any complaints,” Sollitto said, adding that Fisette would not have been given school access had the district been aware of the allegation.
Goodwill also posted photographs related to the donation program — but not with both Fisette and students in them — at schools in North Smithfield, Cumberland, Coventry, Providence and other schools besides Leo Savoie in Woonsocket.
According to a listing of bin locations, Catholic churches have also hosted the bins, including the place where Fisette last served as priest. Facebook posts on the Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island page thank the individual priests for hosting them.
The diocese did not respond to a request for comment about whether Fisette, who was removed from ministry in 2009 and no longer has the bishop’s permission to function as a priest, managed donation bins at Catholic churches.
It has also refused to comment on assertions from Fisette’s family and supporters that the sexual-abuse claim was unfounded and that Fisette was cleared of the allegation before the diocese put him on the list of credibly accused clergy.
Fisette’s sister, in a letter to The Providence Journal, said the Vatican ordered the Diocese of Providence to conduct an “administrative penal process” — defined by the Vatican as an “extrajudicial procedure for determining the truth of an allegation.” In 2017, Margaret Fisette Wharton wrote, “it was concluded that my brother did not commit the allegation made against him.”
Fisette’s supporters have declined to provide any of the underlying documentation or evidence they are citing.
The diocese’s list of “credibly accused” clergy was compiled by Kevin O’Brien, its director of compliance and a former member of the Rhode Island State Police. He included names on the list when “he had a reasoned and grounded belief that the allegation was sufficiently supported based on the presently available and developed evidence,” the diocese said.
In a letter released the same day as the list, Bishop Thomas J. Tobin noted that inclusion on the list didn’t necessarily mean someone was guilty of sexually abusing a minor.
“It means only that an allegation has been received by the Diocese and after a preliminary investigation, has been deemed to be credible,” Tobin said.
Lori Norris Jordan said she was aware of Fisette’s history when she brought him on board as a volunteer coordinator in 2010 while she led fund development initiatives for Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island. She, like other people who have supported Fisette, has said he had been cleared of the allegation. She said the organization had received no complaints about Fisette.
In a follow-up message Thursday, Jordan said she’d brought him on board only as a volunteer coordinator, which did not involve working with children.
Jeffrey Machado, the CEO of Goodwill Industries of Rhode Island during Fisette’s time there, did not respond to requests for comment.
Ann Hagan Webb, who said she was abused by a different Rhode Island priest starting when she was in kindergarten and has become an advocate for fellow survivors, called Fisette’s presence along with children via his new job “appalling.”
“They didn’t have to give him a job that put him so clearly around kids,” she said. “There are lots of other positions in an organization like that. When will people get it?”