Church, Parents at Odds
St. Leo School, Priest at Issue
By Kathleen A Shaw
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
March 20, 2002
LEOMINSTER - A meeting between officials of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester and parents concerned about conditions at St. Leo Elementary School and the presence of a controversial priest at the school and parish, never took place yesterday.
Raymond L. Delisle, spokesman for the diocese, said the meeting had never been scheduled. He said a private meeting had been planned between church officials and parents of a former student at the school, which offers classes to elementary pupils and seventh- and eighth-graders.
Daniel J. Shea, a lawyer representing some parents attending the parish school, told the Telegram & Gazette that the meeting had been arranged by two parents who were named in a complaint to the state Department of Social Services. The lawyer said other parents informed him they wanted to participate in the session and call for the removal of the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo from the parish.
Mr. Delisle pointed out that only the bishop of the diocese can remove a priest from a parish assignment. The diocesan spokesman sent an e-mail to a T&G editor on Monday advising him that there would be no public meeting, but the editor was not at work that day.
Mr. Shea said part of the meeting was to be devoted to a 51A complaint filed by Dr. F. John McLaughlin, a physician and president of the St. Leo School Board, against Mr. and Mrs. Marcin Jean, whose children attended the school.
Mrs. Jean said yesterday that the doctor lodged the complaint, accusing her and her husband of abusing and neglecting their two children. She maintained that the complaint was in retaliation for concerns the Jeans had raised about the physical condition of the school and about Rev. Inzerillo's presence there.
At one point, she said, DSS officials threatened to remove their two children from their home after deciding the complaint had merit and would be supported.
Dr. McLaughlin could not be reached for a comment yesterday. No residential telephone listing was available and calls to his office were answered by an answering service that said he was not available and that another physician was covering for him.
The complaint noted that one of Mr. and Mrs. Jean's children had a medical problem and that he had missed six months of school.
Mrs. Jean said she was among several parents concerned about a number of issues, including the school's general cleanliness and the lack of seats for the toilets.
These issues later broadened to include their concerns about Rev. Inzerillo's assignment at St. Leo parish. The priest was named in a suit alleging sexual misconduct that was settled with payment of $300,000 to Edward Gagne. Mr. Gagne provided a copy of the settlement to the parents.
Carol Yelverton, spokeswoman for DSS, acknowledged yesterday that Dr. McLaughlin filed a report of neglect and abuse against the Jeans. She said the agency's role was to have the Juvenile Court appoint a guardian to ensure that the child received proper medical treatment.
Mr. and Mrs. Jean and Shea said the issue was resolved because state Sen. Robert V. Antonioni, D-Leominster, became involved and his office conducted a full investigation of circumstances surrounding the filing of the 51A complaint. Mr. Shea said the Jeans were cleared of the charges.
Mrs. Jean said she sent a registered letter to Bishop Daniel P. Reilly in June, shortly after the 51A report was filed, discussing her concerns that false accusations were made against her. She said she never got an answer.
Tillie Ryan, legislative aide to Mr. Antonioni, said last night that she handled the investigation into the 51A at the request of the Jeans. The Jeans were cleared of wrongdoing on Dec. 21, she said.
Ms. Ryan said she and the senator were not informed of a possible connection between the parents' activism at the school and the filing of the complaint until the Jeans told them about the situation two weeks after they were cleared.
Bonnie Hendrin, another parent who showed up for the meeting that was not held, said she was there out of concern about a retreat for school eighth-graders in Whitinsville last summer that was attended by Rev. Inzerillo. Mrs. Hendrin said it was her understanding that the retreat was not supposed to be heavily religious, but was to be a "fun time" before the students graduated and went on to different high schools.
She said after her son and other students returned, they told of being extremely upset over a "sex talk" delivered to the students at the retreat. Ms. Hendrin said that boys and girls, all about age 13, were together when Rev. Inzerillo told them that males are sexually aroused quickly because their genitals are outside their bodies, while females are slow to arousal because their genitals are internal.
"This upset all the kids -- boys and girls. That was all they were talking about," she said.
Ann Mangold, another parent, said she went to the rectory meeting with the same concerns.
In a prepared statement, Mr. Delisle said that during the past three weeks, "senior staff people at the bishop's office and Catholic School Department, along with the pastor of St. Leo parish and the principal of St. Leo school, Leominster, have been speaking with parents and parishioners about their concerns regarding the continued assignment of Fr. Peter Inzerillo as associate pastor in their parish.
"It has been confirmed that all contact with children at the school has been in public or adult supervised capacities and that no details of specific wrongdoings are being presented. In general, the concern has been with having an associate pastor who has been involved in an allegation of wrongdoing against an adult, even though no liability was identified on anyone's part in that case's settlement," Mr. Delisle said.
"Bishop Reilly has been monitoring this and as soon as he has completed his investigation, he will announce his findings," the spokesman said.
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