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  Police Chaplain Ousted after Alleged Abuse

By Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington
Boston Herald
March 21, 2002

A chaplain of the state police was removed from his Oxford parish yesterday and has been relieved of his police duties after admitting in a letter that he molested an altar boy more than two decades ago.

The Rev. Gerard P. Walsh, who presided at the second inauguration of Gov. William F. Weld in 1995, had been the pastor at St. Roch's Parish in Oxford since 1993.

A state police chaplain since the mid-1980s, Walsh was ousted from that voluntary post on Monday night for "action that was not consistent with the role of the state police chaplain," a state police official confirmed yesterday.

Walsh's ouster from both posts follows a complex series of events involving his accuser, state police, the Worcester County district attorney's office, and the Worcester Diocese, said Walsh's accuser, Thomas E. Bedard of Leominster.

"I want this to be a wake-up call to the Diocese of Worcester," Bedard, a 37-year-old engineer and father of four, said yesterday. "In my view, they have not been taking this scandal seriously enough."

According to Bedard, the abuse admitted to by Walsh in his letter, which was dated this past Friday and provided to the Herald, began in the late 1970s while Bedard was an altar boy at Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Leominster.

Bedard says Walsh showed him sexually graphic materials, asked him to open his shirt and pants, and grabbed his genitals on several occasions while the pair were engaged in "friendly wrestling."

"He called the line from my chest to my crotch 'The Ho Chi Minh Trail,' " Bedard recalled, adding that Walsh provided beer and wine to him while he was a minor.

Bedard said he put the events behind him until December 1998, when he wrote a letter to Msgr. Rocco Piccolommi of the Worcester Diocese outlining painstaking details about the alleged abuse.

"I recognized finally that his behavior wasn't right and that I needed to report it," he said.

Those concerns about the conduct of Worcester Diocese priests heightened after the arrival of the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo at St. Leo's Parish in Leominster, where Bedard's children attend school.

Inzerillo, the embattled associate pastor at the church, was named in a sexual misconduct suit filed by Ed Gagne of Spencer, who said the priest molested him when Gagne was 19.

Of his 1998 report to the Worcester Diocese, Bedard said, "I naively believed they would take appropriate action."

A month ago, after hearing more accounts of problem priests in the Boston and Worcester dioceses, Bedard said he decided to act again. His opening came, he said, when he learned from news reports that Worcester Diocese Bishop Daniel P. Reilly had struck a deal with Worcester County DA John J. Conte to hand over internal records related to abusive priests to Conte's office by March 26.

Bedard said he decided to contact Conte's office about Walsh on the expectation that the 1998 letter he had sent to Piccolommi regarding Walsh would probably be included among the priestly data delivered by Reilly to Conte. He also told his story, he said, to a "highly professional" state police investigator, Lt. Marian J. McGovern.

"She told Walsh of my allegations and he denied them," Bedard said. "So I decided to confront Walsh myself, and I went to Oxford last Wednesday to visit him."

There, at St. Rochs's (pronounced "St. Rock's"), according to Bedard, Walsh at first denied the abuse, then slowly admitted to it after a 45-minute conversation.

Bedard said he demanded a letter of apology and an acknowledgement, and Walsh agreed to write one. The letter says: "Dear Tom: I write to acknowledge two things. 1) Inappropriate touching. 2) Sexual graphic material that I showed you. I sincerely and profoundly ask your forgiveness for any harm that I may have caused you." It is signed "Gerard P. Walsh."

Bedard says he put the letter aside for a few days, but by Monday was angry that Walsh might remain a state police chaplain simply by lying about the allegations.

He says he gave a copy of the letter to state police investigators in Worcester on Monday. By Monday night Walsh had been dismissed from his police chaplaincy.

Then, Bedard said, something odd happened. Yesterday morning, he received a call from Msgr. Thomas J. Sullivan of the Worcester Diocese, who said he had received a copy of the Walsh letter from Conte's office.

Bedard said Sullivan told him he was a "liaison" between DA Conte and Bishop Reilly, and wanted to know "how (Bedard) wanted to proceed" on the Walsh matter.

"His offer seemed ambiguous to me," Bedard said. "But I also got the sense from him that Walsh would not survive this matter."

Daniel J. Shea, a lawyer representing St. Leo's parents and other cases involving the Worcester Diocese, called the idea of Conte's office forwarding the letter to Bishop Reilly "horrifying."

"That's a prosecutor colluding with a potential criminal target. It's frightening," Shea said.

Last night, the Worcester Diocese issued a statement from Reilly saying: "Due to an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in the late 1970s, I have placed Fr. Gerard P. Walsh on administrative leave from his duties as pastor."

Neither Conte nor Walsh could be reached for comment.

Walsh was one of seven chaplains volunteering for the state police. Of the six who remain, two are Catholic priests - the Revs. William Hamilton of Springfield and Joseph J. Baggetta of Boston - three are Protestant ministers and another is a rabbi.

Walsh was a popular chaplain among state police who has "counseled many troopers through terrible tragedies," a state police veteran said last night.

He was ordained in 1974 and his early assignment was Our Lady of the Lake. He was later pastor in St. James in Grafton before joining St. Roch in the mid-1990s.

The Worcester Diocese has been under fire since Reilly said publicly he would not follow Boston's lead but instead provide data on problem priests to law enforcement "when we feel like it."

One problem has been Inzerillo. A Westboro priest has detailed a second sexual misconduct charge against him.

Also, a group of parents at St. Leo's have demanded his removal, but so far the bishop has resisted doing so, saying "no liability was identified" in the settlement and that a diocese investigation is ongoing.

 
 

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