Bishop Places Inzerillo on Leave
St. Leo Priest Agrees to Move
By Richard Nangle
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
March 27, 2002
WORCESTER - The Rev. Peter Inzerillo, who was named in a sexual abuse lawsuit settled three years ago for $300,000, has been placed on administrative leave from his assignment as associate pastor of St. Leo Church in Leominster.
The decision was made jointly by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly and Rev. Inzerillo, according to Raymond L. Delisle, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester.
Mr. Delisle said the two decided that "it would make sense for the good of the parish that he step back out."
In an interview on March 16, Bishop Reilly insisted that keeping Rev. Inzerillo assigned to St. Leo did not violate the diocese's policy of zero tolerance toward priests accused of sexual abuse. The action yesterday brings to four the number of priests removed from their posts in recent weeks because of allegations of sexual abuse.
The Rev. John J. Bagley was removed from St. Mary's parish in North Grafton; the Rev. Lee F. Bartlett was removed two weeks ago from the Sacred Heart Parish in Worcester; and the Rev. Gerard P. Walsh, a chaplain of the Massachusetts State Police, was removed from that position and his assignment at St. Roch's Church in Oxford.
The charges against Rev. Inzerillo and the three others are beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution, which is 15 years for rape and six years for indecent assault and battery.
In 1994, Edward Gagne of Spencer sued the diocese, the Rev. Brendan O'Donoghue and Rev. Inzerillo. Mr. Gagne maintained in the suit that Rev. O'Donoghue sexually assaulted him when he was 13 and that Rev. Inzerillo sexually assaulted him six years later.
Mr. Gagne, a planner in the City Manager's Office of Employment and Training, said yesterday that Bishop Reilly should never have assigned Rev. Inzerillo to St. Leo.
"The diocese has always known what the appropriate thing is to do. I'm saddened that it's taken this long," he said.
He also complained that Bishop Reilly failed to talk with him, as well as with St. Leo parishioners and parents of students attending St. Leo School, after concerns arose about Rev. Inzerillo.
"I think it shows grave ignorance on his part and a lack of respect for his own flock," Mr. Gagne said.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Gagne said he met Rev. Inzerillo, then the vocation director for the diocese, after deciding that he wanted to enter the seminary. He said he told Rev. Inzerillo that he had been abused six years earlier by another priest in the Worcester diocese, whereupon Rev. Inzerillo offered to counsel him.
He claimed that during counseling sessions in 1985 and 1986 at the St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg, Rev. Inzerillo blamed him for the earlier abuse and then sexually abused him.
In an answer to the lawsuit, Rev. Inzerillo categorically denied every charge made against him by Mr. Gagne and said he met with him just twice. Rev. Inzerillo could not be reached for comment yesterday and has not returned calls by reporters in recent weeks.
Mr. Gagne said Rev. Inzerillo introduced into the counseling discussions talk of male bonding and male affection. He said Rev. Inzerillo initiated hugs that lasted as long as 15 to 20 minutes, and told him that homosexual thoughts were natural. He said the priest also asked him if he was gay.
During one of those hugging sessions, Mr. Gagne said in a deposition, "he dropped his hands to my buttocks area and he squeezed my buttocks and then he pulled me closer to him and then I felt his erection push against me. And then he got my hand, and he placed it down in his groin area, and I pulled my hand away. And he stopped and the session ended."
Answering earlier queries about Rev. Inzerillo, Mr. Delisle noted that the priest had never been found guilty of sexual abuse and also pointed out that, at age 19, Mr. Gagne was an adult when the incident allegedly took place.
Bishop Reilly assumed control of the Worcester diocese in 1994, after Mr. Gagne filed his lawsuit. He assigned Rev. Inzerillo to St. Leo in late 2000, more than a year after the lawsuit was settled in a confidential agreement that was not released to the public.
In recent weeks, some parents of children who attend St. Leo Elementary School raised concern over a retreat for eighth-graders that was held last summer in Whitinsville. The parents said they were told by their children that Rev. Inzerillo gave a "sex talk," in which he 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.
Last week, Mr. Delisle said the diocese and the Catholic School Department, along with the principal of the school and pastor of the parish, had been speaking with parents and parishioners concerning their questions about Rev. Inzerillo.
"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," Mr. Delisle said in a statement last week. "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.
"Bishop Reilly has been monitoring this, and as soon as he has completed his investigation, he will announce his findings," Mr. Delisle said.
Before the time that Mr. Gagne alleged he was sexually abused, Rev. Inzerillo was accused of making an improper sexual remark to another candidate for the priesthood.
The accuser, Christopher Therrien, was summoned to a meeting with Rev. Inzerillo, Monsignor Edmond T. Tinsley and Rev. Rocco Piccolomini, director of priest personnel. Mr. Therrien repeated the accusation, and Rev. Inzerillo denied it.
And Rev. Steven M. LaBaire of St. Luke the Evangelist parish in Westboro said in a deposition in the Gagne case that he was approached by another man who claimed Rev. Inzerillo groped him and pressed his pelvis against him.
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