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  Where Does Provost Case Truth Lie?
Priest, Bishop Differ on Details of Sex Case

By Dianne Williamson
Telegram & Gazette
January 25, 1996

When the Rev. Ronald D. Provost was confronted by police in January 1992, he made little effort to hide the fact that he took inappropriate pictures of young boys and used them for sexual stimulation.

The man known as Father Ron to the adoring youths of his parish voluntarily took police to the rectory of St. Joseph's Church in Barre and showed them pictures he kept on the mantle in his bedroom. When police asked to see more, Father Provost took them to a back room and turned over a manila envelope filled with photos of boys in various stages of undress.

"On some occasions I have taken pictures of kids in the nude, mooning," he told police at the time. "When I look at these pictures I have sexual tendencies. I have fantasies of having sex with the boys. I sometimes masturbate while looking at these pictures I have had the problem of sexuality for about 20 years I admit that I have a problem and intend on getting help with it. "

Provost has displayed rare candor in his account to police and in his testimony earlier this week in Worcester Superior Court, when he revealed that he was sent to a treatment center for clergy in the early 1980s after then Auxiliary Bishop Timothy J. Harrington asked whether he had taken nude photographs of young boys.

BISHOP TO TESTIFY

But today in Worcester Superior Court, Harrington is expected to take the stand and present a widely divergent account of the sad events that culminated in 1993, when Provost received a 10-year suspended prison sentence for taking pictures of a boy who relied on the priest for moral guidance.

"There will be a stark contrast between what Father Provost has said and what Bishop Harrington is going to say," according to lawyer Nathaniel D. Pitnoff.

Pitnoff is representing a Barre boy and his father who have filed a civil suit in connection with photos of the boy taken by Provost in the locker room of an indoor pool in Gardner. The suit seeks monetary damages under an infliction-of-emotional-distress claim against Provost, and negligent supervision claims against Harrington and the Worcester Diocese.

While Provost has appeared to accept and deal with his sad proclivities, the trial now under way in Room 18 serves to underscore the failure of the Catholic Church in facing the reality of child molestation and pedophilia by its priests. If Harrington's testimony today is consistent with a deposition he gave in 1994, it paints a sad picture of a diocese only too willing to ignore the clear warning signs of a problem.

CONTACTED BY SUPERVISOR

In his deposition, Harrington acknowledged that in the early 1980s he was contacted by the Rev. John Capouano, then pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church, who wanted him to see some pictures of young boys taken by Provost that Capouano found inappropriate. Provost was then associate pastor at Mount Carmel.

Harrington said he went to the rectory and saw the snapshots, which were in Provost's room.

"I didn't think they were inappropriate," Harrington testified in 1994. "To me they were pictures of young men, young boys as I recall, it was like in a dormitory or in a bedroom I think they were having a pillow fight. Some were in their pajamas, some in their pants, some were in their shirts and shorts No one was, let's say, naked or in any way naked. I didn't think they were any more disturbing than what I see on a basketball court or tennis court or track. "

Harrington also said in his deposition that he spoke to Provost shortly after and suggested he go to the House of Affirmation, a treatment and therapy center for clergy that was closed in 1989. But while Provost testified this week that Harrington asked if he took nude photos of boys, Harrington indicated in his deposition that Provost was sent for counseling in an effort to broaden his ministry.

NO FOLLOW-UP

Asked if Harrington considered it his duty to follow up on priests who were treated at the House of Affirmation, he replied, "No. Not usually. " Instead, priests such as Provost were routinely reassigned to different parishes, and no efforts were made to monitor their behavior or keep an eye on their activities. In Father Provost's case, he was allowed to continue his rather obsessive focus on the boys of his parish - organizing trips to pools and amusement parks, assembling teams for flag football and street hockey, and sponsoring nights dedicated to baseball card exchanges.

Today, Father Provost is defrocked and disgraced, working as a gravedigger at St. John's Cemetery. He has nothing to lose by being honest with those who now seek some closure in a court of law.

But others have much to lose - their reputation, their standing, the respect of their flock. This week, it's up to a jury to decide who's telling the truth, and who's continuing to cover up a sad and shameful secret.

 
 

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