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  Jury Clears Harrington and Diocese

By Gary V. Murray
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
January 30, 1996

Worcester — A jury yesterday rejected claims that retired Bishop Timothy J. Harrington and the Worcester Diocese were negligent in supervising a Catholic priest who four years ago took semi-nude photographs of a 10-year-old Barre boy.

The Worcester Superior Court jury did agree with a claim filed on behalf of the boy, now 14, that the Rev. Ronald D. Provost's negligence was a substantial contributing factor to the boy's emotional distress. However, the 14-member jury did not find that the boy suffered any objective "physical manifestations" of his emotional distress.The failure to determine physical signs of emotional distress means the boy cannot recover monetary damages.

"I was disgusted by the verdict. I was appalled," the boy's mother said.

Nathaniel D. Pitnof, the lawyer who filed the suit for the boy's family, said he planned to file a motion for a new trial. Pitnof said it appeared the jury "got hung up on one of the technical legal arguments" in the case against Provost.

"It was a very tough case. There were high emotions on both sides and difficult legal issues involved," said Provost's lawyer, Louis P. Aloise. "I think that the jury quite properly applied the law."

"On behalf of Frank Puccio (co-counsel) and myself, we are tremendously pleased for the diocese and the bishop, Timothy J. Harrington," said Worcester lawyer James G. Reardon.

"I have felt from the beginning that the case was an unjust accusation against the diocese and certainly against Bishop Harrington, who just celebrated his 50th year as a priest," Reardon said, "and it gives us all a great deal of comfort to see that a jury can sift through the issues and discern the type of testimony that was offered against the diocese and the bishop and return such a fair and just verdict."

Provost took photographs of the boy in various stages of undress in a pool locker room in Gardner during a Jan. 11, 1992, "swim night" organized by the priest, then pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Barre, according to testimony.

Provost was later convicted on a criminal charge of soliciting a child to pose in a state of nudity and remains on probation. While technically still a priest, Provost is no longer allowed to perform priestly duties and works as a grave digger at St. John's Cemetery.

When questioned about the 1992 photographs, Provost told police he had taken similar pictures in the past and used them for sexual stimulation.

The claim against Harrington and the diocese in the civil lawsuit was that the retired bishop and other diocesan officials knew or should have known that Provost had a propensity for such behavior and failed to take appropriate action.

In testimony, Provost and Harrington offered conflicting accounts of a 1980 meeting between the two after another priest expressed concern about photographs of young boys that Provost had in his room at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church in Worcester.

Provost testified that Harrington, then auxiliary bishop and vicar for priests, questioned him about taking nude pictures of boys and sent him to the House of Affirmation, a treatment center for clergy.

Harrington said he found the photographs he was shown to be harmless and denied asking Provost about taking pictures of nude boys. Harrington said Provost followed his suggestion that the priest obtain counseling to "broaden his ministry" because of concerns that he was devoting too much of his time to the very young and the elderly.

Dr. Robert M. Barresi, a Worcester psychologist, testified that the boy had post-traumatic stress disorder from Provost's conduct.

In his instructions, Judge Raymond J. Brassard told the jurors that in order to recover damages on the claim against Provost, the plaintiff had to prove he suffered emotional distress, that it was caused by Provost's negligence and that there was some physical manifestation of the distress, such as headaches, diarrhea, concentration and reading problems, sleeplessness or post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pitnof said after the verdict was returned that there was ample evidence of physical problems suffered by his client to meet the standard established by the state Supreme Judicial Court. The reason for the "physical manifestations" requirement, he said, was to "screen out frivolous claims of emotional distress."

Aloise disagreed with Pitnof's assessment of the evidence, saying the only testimony offered on physical suffering came from Barresi and not directly from the boy or his family.

The boy's mother said after the verdict that her son was "dramatically affected by this and again, the church has just walked away from its responsibilities.

"It's pretty easy to stick your head in the sand and pretend this doesn't happen...," she said.

Raymond Delisle, director of communications for the diocese, said diocesan officials had no immediate comment on the verdict.

 
 

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