Diocese Clears Priest of Abuse
The Fall River Diocese's New Sexual-Abuse Review Board Is Unanimous in Finding Father Thomas O'Dea of New Bedford Innocent

By Linda Borg
Providence Journal-Bulletin [Rhode Island]
January 16, 1994

The Most Rev. Sean P. O'Malley, bishop of Fall River, has cleared a New Bedford priest of charges that he sexually molested a young boy during the 1960s.

In a statement, the Diocese of Fall River said Bishop O'Malley has concluded that an investigation of the allegations against the Rev. Thomas O'Dea produced "insufficient evidence of improper activity."

Bishop O'Malley reached his decision after consulting with the diocese's new sexual-abuse review board, which was unanimous in finding Father O'Dea innocent. The board, composed of lay people and priests, was formed in 1992 in response to sexual-abuse allegations against former priest James R. Porter.

The review board began investigating the allegations against Father O'Dea late last year, after Arthur Trundy, 39, of New Bedford, accused the priest of molesting him in the basement of the St. James School when he was 12 years old.

Trundy also said he was sexually abused by Porter at least four times during the mid-1960s. Porter served in the St. James parish with Father O'Dea for a brief time.

Yesterday, Trundy said he was not surprised by the diocese's findings.

"I'm not angry," he said. "I am saddened and disappointed. I didn't come forward for the money or the publicity. I came forward because of the children out there. I felt they needed to be warned."

Trundy said two psychologists evaluated him and both believed that his memories of abuse were accurate.

Bishop O'Malley, in a statement released last month, confirmed that Trundy had spoken to the review board about "sudden memories of incidents of sexual assault in his childhood."

"He recalls catching a glimpse of a face in a darkened room and has identified that person as Father Thomas O'Dea," Bishop O'Malley wrote.

The diocese sent Father O'Dea to an independent psychological institute to determine if he had any pedophiliac tendencies, and Bishop O'Malley said last month that the results of that assessment were "very favorable."

Yesterday, the diocese said Bishop O'Malley regrets the pain that the process caused both the accuser and the accused.

"In this difficult process, there must always be a presumption of innocence as an inherent American right of any accused person," the diocese wrote. "While acknowledging this concern, the diocese remains committed to an open and complete response to all accusations of abuse against its clergy."

Father O'Dea, who is assigned to St. Lawrence Church in New Bedford, could not be reached for comment.


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