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  Bill Requires Report of Abuse
Legislation Aimed at Clergy

Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
January 26, 2002

Now that Cardinal Bernard F. Law says the Archdiocese of Boston will require clergy to report past allegations of sexual abuse, supporters of the policy say it is up to the state House of Representatives to make it the law for all religions.

A bill before the Legislature would require clergy to report evidence of sexual abuse of children to the Department of Social Services, as doctors, teachers and social workers are already required to do.

The Senate amended the bill Tuesday to require clergy to report past evidence.

Sen. Cheryl A. Jacques, who cosponsored the amendment, said she was confident that the bill would be quickly approved by the House if religious leaders voiced their support for it.

"I hope all religious leaders embrace the Senate bill that passed unanimously," the Needham Democrat said.

Rep. Antonio F.D. Cabral, D-New Bedford, said he's troubled by an exemption for disclosure in the confessional and in spiritual counseling.

A spokesman for House Speaker Thomas M. Finneran would not comment on the bill.

Gov. Jane M. Swift would probably sign the measure into law if it passes the House, spokesman James Borghesani said.

"We haven't seen the bill yet," Mr. Borghesani said. "She's supportive of the intent."

Cardinal Law announced the archdiocese's new policy Thursday, when 10,000 pages were released detailing how Catholic leaders continued to support the former Rev. John Geoghan- and transferred him from parish to parish- even after warnings from doctors and allegations of sexual abuse of children.

Mr. Geoghan, 66, was convicted last week of indecent assault on a 10-year-old boy and faces two more criminal trials. He's also named in 84 civil lawsuits related to alleged abuse.

The priest was defrocked in 1998. More than 130 people have come forward with allegations claiming that he fondled or raped them between 1962 and 1995.

The steps taken by Cardinal Law have prompted Bishop Daniel P. Reilly to consider the need for changes in procedures involving allegations of sexual misconduct against priests of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester.

Raymond D. Delisle, spokesman for the Worcester diocese, said the bishop is talking with various specialists to see if current diocesan procedures for dealing with these allegations "need updating."

"The bishop is not ready to announce anything yet, but he is working with consultants and specialists in various areas to see what areas he should be updating, especially in light of the changes that have happened in the Archdiocese of Boston," he said.

Mr. Delisle said the Worcester diocese currently has 45,000 children under its care in schools and religious education programs. "We take this seriously. Our concern is with the children," he said.

Monsignor F. Stephen Pedone, judicial vicar for the diocese, said recently that there are no pending allegations against any active priests of the diocese.

The Worcester diocese is preparing to comply with new directives from the Vatican stating that all suspected abuse of children by clergy must be reported to the Vatican. The Vatican has decided that secret trials will be held for these priests, either in the local diocese or in Rome.

This move was criticized by Philip A. Saviano of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, who alleged he was abused by the Rev. David A. Holley when he was at St. Denis Church, East Douglas. Mr. Saviano said secrecy allows abuse to continue. He accepted a settlement from the diocese.

The diocese was rocked several years ago by allegations made against former priests by their victims. Some resulted in criminal convictions, while others were involved in civil suits.

The diocese at the time instituted a pastoral care policy, bringing together clergy and social service people to work with and help victims of alleged abuse.

The Rev. Edward Nicewicz was jailed in 1986 after pleading guilty to charges of indecent assault and rape of two Sutton girls. He was chaplain at Gardner state prison when the offenses occurred.

The Rev. Robert Kelley was sent to Walpole state prison in 1990 after pleading guilty to indecent assault and natural rape of a child when he was pastor of Sacred Heart Church in Gardner. He later was implicated by an Augusta, Maine, woman who said she was sexually abused by him when he was stationed at a parish in Southbridge. Cynthia Yerrick was later awarded more than $500,000 in settlement of a civil suit in Worcester Superior Court.

The Rev. Ronald Provost was sentenced to a prison term after being convicted of taking nude photographs of a 10-year-old boy when he was at St. Joseph's Church in Barre. Investigators seized about 100 photographs of nude male youths from the rectory.

Rev. Holley, who served in the Worcester diocese in the 1960s, was later arrested in New Mexico where he pleaded guilty to charges of sexual assault and aggravated sodomy on minors and was sentenced to 275 years in jail.

The late Rev. Victor Frobas was indicted by a grand jury on sexual abuse charges but died before the Worcester case came to trial. He previously served prison time in Missouri for sexual assault.

The Rev. Joseph A. Fredette, a former Assumptionist priest, was extradited from Canada to face charges that he assaulted a teen-age boy committed to his care by the state Department of Youth Services while he was director of Come Alive Inc. of Worcester. He later served a prison term.

None is still an active priest in the diocese.

 
 

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