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  Rev. Devlin Removed - Directed Anti-Abortion Activities of Diocese

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
April 30, 2002

The Rev. Chester J. Devlin, who headed the Respect Life office for the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, has been removed by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly from his assignment at St. Bernadette parish in Northboro because of an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor in the 1980s.

He was also removed from his position as director of anti-abortion activities in the diocese and has been placed on administrative leave. Maria Flores, the associate director, will take over as acting director of those activities.During the 1980s, Rev. Devlin was a headmaster at Notre Dame Academy of Fitchburg, a privately owned Catholic school, and at Marianhill in Southbridge.

Monsignor Thomas J. Sullivan, diocesan chancellor and vocations director, officiated at weekend Masses at St. Bernadette and explained the situation to parishioners. Rev. Devlin was removed from the parish assignment on Friday.

Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said yesterday that information on Rev. Devlin was turned over to him by the diocese and that his staff is investigating. The incidents are alleged to have happened in the early 1980s, Mr. Conte said.

Bishop Reilly said yesterday he will "cooperate fully'' with the district attorney's office in the investigation.

"My prayers and encouragement are with all members of our diocesan family during these difficult times. We pledge, once again, our continued commitment to work toward the protection and well-being of children in our care,'' the bishop said.

Rev. Devlin is the fifth active priest to be placed on administrative leave this year by Bishop Reilly after allegations of sexual misconduct with minors were made against them.

The Rev. John J. Bagley, a former Vatican official, was removed as pastor of St. Mary's parish, North Grafton, on Feb. 20; the Rev. Lee F. Bartlett was removed March 15 from Sacred Heart parish, Worcester; the Rev. Gerard P. Walsh, a chaplain for the Massachusetts State Police, was removed from St. Roch parish, Oxford, on March 19; and the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo of St. Leo's parish, Leominster, took a leave on March 25.

Bishop Reilly said yesterday that Rev. Devlin will not be "engaging in any public ministry in this diocese or elsewhere.''

Monsignor Sullivan will oversee the St. Bernadette parish and has taken up residence in the Northboro rectory. He is making himself available to parishioners for pastoral support and to express the bishop's concern and support of the diocese.

Monsignor Sullivan also will assume pastoral duties at St. Bernadette Catholic School, the parish elementary school. He will be able to draw on his experience as former headmaster of St. Bernard High School, Fitchburg, the bishop said. "I will also be conferring with parish leaders to determine what additional assistance is needed by the parish,'' Bishop Reilly said.

"I ask for your prayers and support for the person making the allegation and the person's family. Please also pray for the entire St. Bernadette parish family, which Father Devlin has served, first as administrator in 1991 and then as pastor since 1992, the families and staff of the St. Bernadette school and the pro-life community who have worked with him over the years. In charity, I also ask for your prayer for Father Devlin and his family during this investigation,'' Bishop Reilly said.

Laurie Letourneau, of Shrewsbury, a Catholic who heads the Life Action League of Massachusetts, said many people in the "pro-life'' movement have been unhappy with the way Rev. Devlin directed the diocese's anti-abortion efforts.

She said more than 400 anti-abortion activists in the area signed a petition nearly a year ago asking Bishop Reilly to make changes in the Respect Life office and change the focus of its activities. They did not get an answer from the bishop, she said.

Ms. Letourneau said the activists believe the Respect Life office was not doing enough to oppose abortion and that Rev. Devlin was difficult to get along with.

Rev. Devlin is the second Northboro priest accused of sexual abuse. Two men filed suit in the early 1990s maintaining that as teen-agers they were abused by the late Rev. Victor Frobas, who served at St. Rose of Lima in Northboro.

Rev. Frobas had come to this area for treatment at the now closed House of Affirmation in Whitinsville, which was run by the Rev. Thomas A. Kane, who has since been accused of sexually molesting minors. Rev. Kane was last known to be in Guadalajara, Mexico.

Rev. Devlin, a native of Dudley, was ordained in 1971 by Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan at Notre Dame Church in Southbridge. He studied for the priesthood at Glastonbury Monastery, Hingham; Christ the King Seminary of Olean, N.Y.; and St. Thomas Seminary, Bloomfield, Conn.

After ordination, he was assigned as temporary associate pastor of St. Camillus parish in Fitchburg, and later was assigned to St. Peter's in Northbridge. He was named to the faculty of Holy Name High School of Worcester in 1972.

In 1979, he became headmaster of Notre Dame Academy of Fitchburg, and in 1987 was named headmaster of Marianhill in Southbridge.

Mr. Conte said that contrary to what some may believe, there is no agreement between his office and the diocese on turning over information regarding sexual misconduct by priests. He said the diocese has "been very cooperative.'' In cases where his investigators needed more information, the diocese has provided it, he said.

Mr. Conte said once his investigation is through, he may decide to disclose the number of priests whose names were forwarded to him for investigation by the diocese. He has thus far declined to do that. "I'm still investigating,'' he said.

Kathleen A. Shaw can be reached via e-mail at kshaw@telegram.com.

 
 

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