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  Deal Mandated Silence
Accuser Not Allowed to Discuss Abuse Allegations

By Richard Nangle
Telegram & Gazette
April 1, 2002

The confidential settlement that Edward Gagne of Spencer had to sign in 1999 to receive $300,000 from the Catholic Diocese of Worcester in a priest sexual abuse case required that he and his lawyers ask the diocese for permission before discussing his allegations with any governmental authorities.

Also, a letter from his lawyer notes that the legal counsel for the diocese at the time, James Reardon, stated during negotiations that jurors in Worcester County would rule against Mr. Gagne because they believe that "the Catholic Church can do no wrong."

In taking his confidentiality agreement public and releasing the letter, Mr. Gagne says he hopes to shine a light on diocesan policy that he and many other alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse believe is counterproductive to changing the church's culture of secrecy.

"This is more of the same behavior by an institution that has continued to practice in the Dark Ages," Mr. Gagne said in an interview.

"I could never let, nor comprehend the possibility of, another teen-ager being abused, or let what was forced on me be forced on another young adult," he said. "That's why I went public in 1994, and that's why I'm speaking out now and have continued to until this day."

Bishop Daniel P. Reilly placed the Rev. Peter Inzerillo, one of the two priests Mr. Gagne named in his suit, on administrative leave last week. A diocesan spokesman said the arrangement was made for the good of the parish.

Bishop Reilly's predecessor, Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, placed Rev. Inzerillo on leave in 1994 after Mr. Gagne filed his lawsuit. Bishop Reilly assigned Rev. Inzerillo to St. Leo Church in late 2000.

"The most empowering thing for victims to do is to speak out. When that happens, the feelings of powerlessness and helplessness over a period of time begin to diminish," Mr. Gagne said. "It's incredible to experience the transformation."

Mr. Gagne, now a planner in Worcester's Office of Employment and Training, said he received a telephone death threat after he filed the lawsuit.

The 1999 agreement yielded one of the largest lawsuit settlements ever by the diocese. The document states that the intention was to preserve "the confidentiality of the settlement" between Mr. Gagne and former Bishops Harrington and Bernard Flanagan and Rev. Inzerillo and the Rev. Brendan O'Donoghue, the other priest accused of sexual abuse in Mr. Gagne's lawsuit.

"The defendants have denied, and continue to deny, the allegations of the plaintiff," the agreement states. "It is understood and agreed that any payments made are in compromise of a disputed claim and are not and shall not be deemed to be an admission with respect to the plaintiff's claims or to any allegations previously made or which could be made by the plaintiff."

But it is the following clause that is most upsetting to Mr. Gagne:

"If requested by any governmental agency, or by any party to any civil litigation, by subpoena or otherwise, to give any information or deliver any documents pertaining to the resolution of these claims, plaintiff and plaintiff's attorney will respond by advising that the matter is subject to a confidentiality agreement and will give immediate notice of the request to the defendant Roman Catholic Bishop of Worcester."

Mr. Gagne said he wanted to release the settlement agreement because the language shows that Rev. Inzerillo was as liable for the damages as any of the other people named.

He alleged that Rev. O'Donoghue sexually abused him when he was 13. Years later, when he decided to go into the seminary, Mr. Gagne said, he was introduced to Rev. Inzerillo, then the diocesan vocation director. He said he told Rev. Inzerillo he had been sexually abused by a priest. He then entered into a counseling relationship with Rev. Inzerillo, who denies the counseling occurred.

Rev. Inzerillo said he met with Mr. Gagne just twice- the second time to inform him that he was not a suitable candidate for the priesthood.

Mr. Gagne says that in 1985 and 1986, the two met at the St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg 16 times. He alleges that Rev. Inzerillo hugged him several times during the meetings, for up to 15 or 20 minutes at a time.

Until last month, when Bishop Reilly first let it be known that he was reviewing Rev. Inzerillo's status, the diocese stood firmly behind the embattled priest. A spokesman noted that the alleged victim was 19 and an adult when the alleged improprieties occurred and that Rev. Inzerillo had never been found guilty of a crime.

That stance provoked considerable controversy and even infuriated some priests, according to Rev. Steven LaBaire, associate pastor of St. Luke the Evangelist Church in Westboro.

"How do they not see this as an issue in terms of abuse of power, when someone is exploited sexually within the context of a counseling relationship?" he asked.

Mr. Gagne said one of the reasons he decided to go public was because of his revulsion over how the diocese handled complaints from parishioners at St. Leo Church and parents of students who attend the parish school.

"The diocese has continued to ignore and conduct itself with misleading information to the parents of St. Leo School in Leominster," he said.

In a September 1996 letter to diocesan lawyers, Mr. Gagne's lawyer, Stephen J. Lyons, wrote, "Although Inzerillo denies this, Gagne and Inzerillo were seen together at a restaurant during this time by an independent witness.

"Inzerillo used the opportunity to require Gagne to continue to see him as a counselor/therapist before he would work further with Gagne on completing the application process."

The witness, Mr. Gagne said, was his aunt.

Mr. Gagne says it was during the therapy sessions, each of which he detailed in a journal at the time, that Rev. Inzerillo made subtle sexual advances toward him.

Mr. Lyons criticized Bishop Harrington, head of the diocese at the time of the alleged sexual abuse by Rev. Inzerillo.

"Harrington made the ultimate decision who was telling the truth," Mr. Lyons said.

"If he decided the accusations were false, he would warn the priest to be careful. If he decided the allegations were true, he claimed that he would refer the priest for treatment and offer treatment to the 'alleged victim.' He never notified law enforcement authorities, even if he believed the allegations.

"He believed that any publicity would damage the diocese's reputation. He even used his authority to discourage victims from talking to others about the allegations by comparing sexual abuse to a divorce where 'everybody gets hurt.' "

Mr. Lyons also noted that Judge Daniel Toomey had affirmed that "the diocese is liable for the acts and omissions of defendants O'Donoghue, Flanagan, Inzerillo and Harrington." criticized the diocese for having "no formalized procedures for dealing with allegations of sexual misconduct by priests from 1959 through 1994."

Mr. Lyons made reference to a conference with diocesan officials that he found particularly onerous. He wrote that one church official said that "my client's damages are not significant because these disgusting events happened once- or twice- and that the plaintiff should not be so upset. Worse, I heard that, because my client might be gay, he may even have welcomed these deplorable incidents."

At the end of the letter, Mr. Lyons criticizes Mr. Reardon for being "quite vocal about the inability of my client to obtain an impartial jury of his peers in Worcester County. It was asserted that the Worcester area is a mostly blue-collar, Catholic, working-class community that 'likes the Catholic Church' and believes that 'the Catholic Church can do no wrong.' "

Two years later, a Worcester Superior Court judge barred Mr. Reardon- who is now deceased- from future depositions in the Gagne case, finding the lawyer "repeatedly disrupted the depositions by raising improper objections, instructing the witnesses not to answer questions without justification and even, on one occasion, by threatening the witness ... with legal consequences if he answered the particular questions."

A year later, the diocese agreed to settle the case.

 
 

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