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  15 Years Later, Priest Guilty of Rape
The Verdict Is the First Rape Conviction of a Priest in Rhode Island

By Elliot Krieger
Providence Journal-Bulletin
June 25, 1997

As the victim and her husband wept and embraced, Monsignor Louis Ward Dunn was led out of the courtroom in handcuffs, convicted of raping a 21-year-old parishioner 15 years ago in her Providence apartment.

The conviction came a week after Father Dunn, a 76-year-old retired Roman Catholic priest, was found innocent of another rape charge.

The guilty verdict, announced yesterday afternoon by Superior Court Judge Stephen J. Fortunato Jr., stunned the courtroom, in part because the verdict came so quickly - the trial lasted only two days - and in part because Fortunato was so forceful in his language.

He said that Father Dunn, who was pastor of St. Thomas Church, in Providence, at the time of the rape, used his authority as a priest to "prey upon" the victim, concocting a "perverse scheme" to seduce the young woman and to force her to engage in sexual intercourse.

The trial turned almost entirely on the testimony of the victim, who is now 36 and living in Burrillville. Father Dunn's lawyer, Bruce E. Vealey, tried to cast doubt about her testimony, particularly because she did not report the rape until 13 years after it occurred. But Fortunato said her testimony "stands unimpeached and uncontradicted."

Father Dunn showed no visible reaction as the verdict was announced. A small, wizened man with paperish skin and two hearing aids, he sat impassive throughout the trial. He wore a sports jacket and patterned tie, and he generally sat with his hands folded beneath his chin.

After the verdict, he smiled weakly as he was led out of the courtroom by marshals. He was taken to the Adult Correctional Institutions, where he is being held without bail.

Father Dunn is the first Rhode Island priest to be convicted of rape, or first-degree sexual assault. Since the mid-1980s, four other priests have been sentenced on other sexual-assault charges.

Fortunato set no date for sentencing. Father Dunn faces a sentence of 20 years to life in prison. Neither Vealey nor the prosecutor, Asst. Atty. Gen. David D. Prior, would comment after the verdict.

The victim offered a brief statement outside the courthouse, saying that she was "in a lot of pain" during the trial, but that she now felt numb.

"Nobody wins," she said. "It's hard." She encouraged other victims of sexual abuse to come forward, and said she was pleased that Father Dunn "can't hurt anybody else anymore."

In her testimony over the past two days, the woman described how Father Dunn first approached her when she was 16 years old and attending a religious convention in Atlantic City.

Noticing that she seemed disturbed during a session on incest, Father Dunn spoke to her on the bus ride home to Providence. He said he knew that she had been sexually abused by her father, which she had. He asked her to begin counseling with him.

Over the next year, the teenager told Father Dunn about the years of sexual abuse she had suffered, and he absolved her of responsibility.

She said he became her surrogate father.

But what seemed to be a caring relationship was in fact, as Fortunato said in announcing the verdict, "a pattern of sexual predations against this girl who he knew had been a victim, from the age of 3 to 16, at her father's perverted hands."

One evening, when she was napping on his bed in the rectory, the young woman woke to find that Father Dunn was fondling her genitals. She screamed and cried: "Not you!"

At that point, Father Dunn told her that God had sent her to him as a gift, and that God wanted her to teach him that he could be loved by a woman.

"As part of his perverse scheme," Fortunato said, "he reached for the Bible and proceeded to begin reading passages from Song of Songs . . . the sexual metaphors contained in that work."

Over the next four years, the victim had frequent sexual relations with Father Dunn, though they did not engage in sexual intercourse.

In 1982, when the victim was 21, Father Dunn began pressuring her to have sexual intercourse.

"He began a conscious plot," Fortunato said, "to overcome this young woman's resistance and to use her and abuse her for his own sexual gratification."

The victim testified that Father Dunn called her repeatedly, at work and at home, to try to persuade her to have intercourse. He insisted that she make an appointment to see a gynecologist to obtain birth-control pills.

She did so, and the night before her appointment Father Dunn came to her Academy Avenue apartment, where he forced her to engage in sexual intercourse.

"Her resistance was overcome by his use of force," Fortunato said. He had noted several times in this week's trial and last week's that the use of force or the threat of force is essential for a guilty verdict on a rape charge.

In his closing argument, Vealey tried to convince Fortunato that no force was used. Prior countered that the victim repeatedly said she did not want to engage in sexual intercourse. She had testified that Father Dunn had to force her legs apart in order to do so, and that she tried to push him away from her.

In that regard, this week's case differed from the case that Fortunato dismissed last week for lack of evidence. In that case, Lucille Suzanne Farr, 50, of California, testified that Father Dunn had raped her 32 years ago in Christ the King Church rectory, near the University of Rhode Island campus. Farr later became pregnant by Father Dunn and gave birth to a daughter, whom she put up for adoption and has not seen since.

In dismissing last week's case, Fortunato found that Farr did not resist Father Dunn and that he did not use force against her. After the incident, Farr continued a four-year sexual relationship with Father Dunn.

In this week's case, however, the victim broke off all sexual relations with Father Dunn after the rape, though she did continue to attend functions at St. Thomas Church and at the rectory.

Why she did so was a subject of much testimony and argument yesterday. Two years after the rape, Father Dunn walked the victim down the aisle at her wedding, danced the father-daughter dance with her afterward and paid for the reception.

Vealey argued that the victim could not have continued her friendship with Father Dunn had a rape occurred. He also argued that she did not report the rape for many years.

He noted that after her first meeting with Prior, the victim prepared a nine-page statement that mentioned the years of sexual abuse but not the rape. Prior informed her that the state could not prosecute those charges because they had occurred too long ago. Only then, Vealey argued, did the victim come forward and describe the rape that occurred in her apartment.

(For most crimes, charges cannot be lodged after three years. There is no time limit on a charge of first-degree sexual assault, or rape.)

Fortunato found, however, that the victim's account of rape was believable, and that there was no "plot afoot to railroad an innocent man." He noted that no one contradicted the victim's account of the event - including Father Dunn, who did not testify.

Through his lawyer, Father Dunn waived the right to a jury trial, so Fortunato heard the case himself and determined the verdict.

The victim, Farr and another woman, Phyllis M. Hutnak, of Charlestown, who testified on the victim's behalf, have sued Father Dunn and the Diocese of Providence to collect for damages that they say they suffered because they were sexually abused by Father Dunn.

William G. Halpin, the spokesman for the diocese, said yesterday after learning of the verdict that Bishop Robert E. Mulvee, who took over earlier this month as head of the diocese, has kept Father Dunn and the victim in his prayers.

"His prayers include all the people of the diocese in this state who share in the sadness of these circumstances," Halpin said.

He said the verdict would have no bearing on the suits against the diocese because "as soon as Bishop (Louis E.) Gelineau learned of any problem concerning Monsignor Dunn he relieved him of his duties - he acted as soon as he knew."

He said it was the victim herself who first informed Bishop Gelineau about the allegations against Father Dunn.

The victim testified that she wrote to Bishop Gelineau about Father Dunn three years ago, but that the bishop refused to meet with her.

 
 

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