Trials Force Boy to Relive Episode
Provost Victim Shouldn't Go through a Third Trial
By Dianne Williamson
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
February 1, 1996
When the Rev. Ronald Provost was sentenced in 1993 for taking seminude photographs of a young boy, the child's parents told the court of the "tremendous stress" the case has placed on the family.
"Little boys belong outside playing with their friends, not in a courthouse dealing with sexual abuse," according to the victim impact statement of the boy's mother.
Yet three years later, the same boy was once again in a court of law, compelled to take part in yet another well-publicized trial. This time, though, the civil proceedings were orchestrated by the boy's parents and their lawyer, who were seeking monetary damages. And while the grown-ups in this case may have believed they were pursuing justice, some of the testimony made you wonder who, if anyone, was looking out for the boy's best interests.
Both cases - the criminal trial and subsequent civil matter - stemmed from photographs taken of the then 10-year-old Barre boy by Provost in the locker room of a Gardner swimming pool in 1992. If you saw the pictures, you saw a boy in a bathing suit who was clowning around and showing off - mooning the priest, flexing his muscles, sticking out his middle finger, and basically hamming it up.
IGNORANCE WAS BLISS
Father Provost would later tell police that he had taken a number of photographs over the years of boys with their buttocks exposed and that he sometimes used the pictures for sexual stimulation.
The boy knew nothing of this until his mother later told him what Provost would have done with the pictures (Provost never even developed the film; that was done by police). In an interview with police a few days after the photo session, the boy was asked if Provost ever took pictures of him in his bathing trunks.
"Ya," he replied. "But I don't think there's anything wrong with that, is there? "
Asked if Father Ron ever did anything to make him feel uncomfortable, the boy replied, "No." The boy didn't think he needed any therapy until his parents told him he did. And the therapy began a month after the boy's father filed a civil suit in 1993 in Worcester Superior Court, seeking financial compensation from Provost, retired Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, and the Diocese of Worcester.
His first therapist met with the boy seven to 10 times, from June through October of 1993, before determining the youth had no further need of counseling. A year later, the family's lawyer, Nathaniel Pitnof, met with Worcester psychologist Robert M. Barresi. Before Barresi even saw his future client, he estimated the boy would need about $ 15,000 worth of therapy - the precise figure he later testified to in court.
Barresi would also testify at the civil trial that the boy suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of being photographed in his underwear ("the abusive photography session," Barresi called it). He recited a laundry list of symptoms exhibited by the boy, including clinical depression, denial, anxiety, emotional "numbing," distrust of others, poor self-image, increased irritability, repeated intrusive thoughts, loss of social relationships and recreational activities, diminished energy, loss of religious convictions, over-vigilance, immaturity and difficulty concentrating and sleeping.
Bills for the sessions, which ranged from $ 125 to $ 150, were sent to Pitnof. Barresi testified that it was his understanding that his fees would be paid from any judgment that might be awarded in the case, or that the payments would be extended over a period of time.
Under cross-examination by Provost's lawyer, Louis P. Aloise, Barresi said he spent 30 to 40 hours preparing the initial evaluation that included his diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder. Only four to six hours of that time were spent interviewing the boy, he said.
Barresi was so involved in the civil case that he even proposed trial strategy. In a letter to Pitnof admitted as evidence, Barresi suggested Pitnof try to show that innocent physical contact by Provost - such as putting his arm around the boy's shoulder - could be made to look improper or sexual in nature.
On Monday, a Worcester Superior Court jury refused to award any monetary damages to the boy, although it did agree that Provost's negligence contributed to the boy's emotional distress.
Aloise, naturally, was pleased with the outcome.
"If the boy was injured, it was occasioned by the aftermath of the incident, not by what Father Provost did," he said. "Obviously, he shouldn't have taken those pictures. It was criminally and morally wrong. But any emotional distress came from the criminal prosecution and the actions of Barresi and the boy's parents, who kept telling him he must have a problem. " Pitnof said he will file a motion for a new trial. Asked if the most recent trial was in the boy's best interest, he said, "It was intended to give closure to him, to let him know the system worked. "
Civil court may indeed be the proper forum for claims that the diocese ignored evidence of child molestation and pedophilia by its priests. And retired Bishop Harrington, who was absolved of blame in this matter, will likely again be forced to defend his actions in future cases that claim far more damage to alleged victims than the taking of photographs.
But, as the boy's own mother said some three years ago, a courtroom is no place for a now-14-year-old boy. He has already endured two well-publicized trials and has been subjected to far more trauma than that caused by Provost.
It's time for the grown-ups to provide the boy with the closure they claim he needs, by leaving him alone.
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