3 Women Sue Leominster Priests, Diocese
By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
May 9, 2002
WORCESTER - Three women have filed a civil suit against the Catholic Diocese of Worcester and two priests who served at St. Cecilia Parish in Leominster in connection with alleged sexual abuse by Rev. Robert E. Kelley.
The suit identifies the priests as the Rev. George E. Denomme, who was pastor at St. Cecilia at the time of the alleged sexual abuse and now is the church's senior priest. Also named is Rev. Francis T. Goguen, who was associate pastor then and now is the parish's pastor.
The plaintiffs -- now living in Leominster, Fitchburg and Tewksbury -- allegedly were sexually molested between late 1976, shortly after Rev. Kelley was assigned to Leominster, and 1983, when he was transferred to Sacred Heart Parish in Gardner.
The transfer came after parishioners at St. Cecilia notified the late Bishop Timothy J. Harrington that they believed the priest had sexually abused young girls.
Rev. Kelley, now 60, was convicted of raping a young girl while he served in the Leominster parish and sentenced to prison in 1990. He was released in 1996.
The priest, who lives in Worcester and could not be reached for comment, has not been defrocked, but has been on leave since 1985 and has no active ministry.
Lawyer Jeffrey Newman, who represents the three women, said the suit was filed in Middlesex Superior Court because one plaintiff lives in that district. The three woman seek damages to be determined by the court.
Two plaintiffs, Debbie A. Doucet of Leominster and Nicole Cormier of Fitchburg, are sisters.
Ms. Doucet said in an interview yesterday that Rev. Kelley let her and her sister know that he had a close relationship with the late Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, former head of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. She said documentation exists that Rev. Kelley revealed his problem "with little girls" to the cardinal, who responded that the priest should stay away from young girls.
Ms. Cormier said it was her impression that Cardinal Medeiros "knew what he (Rev. Kelley) was doing with us and he did nothing."
Ms. Doucet said that when the cardinal was dying, Rev. Kelley went to the girls and asked that they pray "really hard" for both him and Cardinal Medeiros.
Ms. Cormier said Rev. Kelley frequently told the girls about his close relationship with the cardinal. "There had to be something to it, because he presented me with an autographed photograph of Cardinal Medeiros," she said.
Mr. Newman said the lawsuit maintains that Rev. Denomme saw the girls being taken upstairs in the St. Cecilia rectory by Rev. Kelley and did nothing. The suit also alleges that Rev. Goguen never attempted to stop the abuse.
Diocesan spokesman Raymond L. Delisle said he had not seen a copy of the lawsuit, which was filed Tuesday, and could not comment.
Heather Mackey of Tewksbury, the third plaintiff, was not a member of St. Cecilia Parish, but used to visit her grandmother, who was a parishioner, Ms. Doucet said. Ms. Mackey was not available for comment yesterday because of a family emergency.
The suit contends that at least several other women were molested as young girls by Rev. Kelley.
"I really have to laud these women for coming forward and helping to bring this to light," Mr. Newman said of the three plaintiffs. He believes many other victims are afraid to come forward.
"I was really scared at first," Ms. Doucet said of her decision to go public. "After I took that first step, I felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of me." She said she feels better each time she tells the story.
Rev. Kelley is be arraigned next Thursday in Leominster District Court on charges of rape and unnatural rape on a girl younger than 7. The statute of limitations has expired on pursuing criminal charges against the priest for the cases involving Ms. Doucet and Ms. Cormier.
Rev. Kelley, who was ordained here in 1968, was first assigned to Notre Dame Parish, Southbridge. He was moved in 1974 to St. Boniface in Lunenburg and then assigned to St. Cecilia in late 1976.
In 1997, Cynthia Yerrick Desrosiers, now of Maine, was awarded more than $500,000 from a lawsuit alleging she was sexually abused by the priest in Southbridge. Another woman sued Rev. Kelley in the early 1990s. The case was settled out of court for an undisclosed sum.
Ms. Doucet said Rev. Kelley "really knew how to manipulate people." She said he would tell young girls he wasn't getting enough attention and demand that they show their affection by kissing him, sitting on his lap or other outward signs of affection, she said.
"He really messed up our lives and our families," she said.
Ms. Doucet said she and her sister finally got up the courage to end the abuse in 1983. (SEE CORRECTION) They told Ms. Doucet's mother, who contacted then-Bishop Harrington. Ms. Doucet said the bishop met with the mother and told her he would "take care" of the matter.
Ms. Cormier said she and her mother later met with the late Monsignor Raymond J. Page, vicar general for the Worcester Diocese, and asked him directly whether Rev. Kelley had abused others. She said the vicar answered in the affirmative.
After Rev. Kelley was transferred to Gardner. Ms. Cormier said she told Monsignor Page that she "didn't want Father Kelley in a position where he could ever do this to another child," she said.
Ms. Doucet said documents collected in connection with her lawsuit showed that Rev. Kelley was placed on sick leave and sent to a treatment program in St. Louis for priests with sexual disorders. While there, she said, the priest worked as a volunteer for a girls swim team at a YMCA.
Ms. Doucet and Ms. Cormier said they remain religious but are not active in their Catholic parishes.
Ms. Cormier, who recently gave birth to her second child, said she is in a quandary over whether to have her son baptized as a Catholic or seek a new denomination.
"I'm really upset with the Catholic Church," Ms. Cormier said.
The three plaintiffs have set up an e-mail address at rksurvivors+Ayahoo.com to communicate with others about alleged sexual abuse by Rev. Kelley.
CORRECTION-DATE: May 10, 2002
- Nicole Cormier of Fitchburg and Debbie A. Doucet of Leominster, who are sisters, first reported sexual abuse by the Rev. Robert E. Kelley to their parents in 1985. Because of a reporting error, the year was incorrectly given as 1983 in Tuesday's edition of the Telegram & Gazette.
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