2 More Speak out on Coonan
Men Allege Sexual Misconduct in '70s
By Richard Nangle
Telegram & Gazette
August 9, 2002
Two more Oxford natives have come forward with details of alleged sexual misconduct by the Rev. Joseph A. Coonan of St. John Church in Worcester.
They said they have given statements to state police that in the 1970s the former camp counselor and high school teacher was delving into sexual perversion under the guise of being a covert government operative.
They say Rev. Coonan urged them to urinate or defecate in his presence.
Bishop Daniel P. Reilly last week placed Rev. Coonan on administrative leave after being notified by the district attorney's office of reports that the priest sexually abused more than one minor. Rev. Coonan, through his lawyer, attempted to clarify the matter, saying the allegations stemmed from his work with heroin addicts in the 1970s.
In recent days, three of his alleged victims have come forward, however, saying they knew Rev. Coonan not through drug counseling but as a psychology teacher or a camp counselor who took his anti-drug message to an extreme.
Joseph D. Early Jr., a Worcester lawyer representing Rev. Coonan, said his client took the matter to state police after receiving a letter from Todd Hammond of Oxford several months ago. Mr. Hammond accused Rev. Coonan of touching his genitals during a ride through Worcester in search of prostitutes who were heroin addicts and urging him and other students to urinate in his car. Mr. Early said Rev. Coonan denies any charge of sexual misconduct or abuse.
"He considers it unfair that after 25 years, now this is coming forward," Mr. Early said. "Not one allegation while he's been a priest, every allegation 12 years before he became a priest, 25 years ago. It's incredulous that all of a sudden after 25 years, 'Let's all talk about it.' "
Yesterday, Kevin Miller, 40, of Rutland, and his brother Ken, 39, of Sterling, both described being asked by Rev. Coonan to take off their clothes while they attended summer camp as teenagers in Oxford.
"He would convince us that what he was doing was working undercover for a government agency looking for drug dealers and witches in the woods in that area," Kevin Miller said. "He was real crafty."
Ken Miller recalled being about 14 years old when Rev. Coonan asked him and some other campers to strip off their clothes and wade into a pond.
"He was telling us that he was trying to avoid the scent of dogs, teaching us to move about quietly in the water. That way if we came upon drug dealers we could sneak up on them," he said.
Kevin Miller said Rev. Coonan asked him to defecate into a trash bag, explaining that he could then throw off the scent of the dogs that belong to mafia members.
He said he did so and brought the trash bag to Rev. Coonan, who was unsatisfied and asked that he defecate again in the car in his presence.
At that point, he said, Rev. Coonan touched his buttocks. "It was to get me situated so I could do it correctly," he said.
"He was paying us," Kevin Miller said. "I was getting money from him. He told me he was working for the government."
Mr. Hammond said he knew of several classmates who told of Rev. Coonan asking them to urinate in a cup that he was holding, so that he could test it for drugs. Mr. Hammond said Rev. Coonan would insist that the urination happen in his presence.
Kevin Miller said he decided to go to police after learning that Rev. Coonan had been placed on administrative leave. And he said he has a message for the parishioners who have come out in support of Rev. Coonan:
"They can believe what they want to believe, but I know better," he said. "I would warn them, don't leave your 14-year-old boy with him."
Rev. Coonan has a legion of supporters who refuse to believe the allegations against him. They have organized a campaign to pressure Bishop Reilly into reinstating the priest.
Dennis G. Longtin, 42, of Oxford, said he has only good memories of Rev. Coonan as a high school teacher of psychology.
"He's helped a lot of people. His teaching was unique. He made it interesting all the time. It was fun," Mr. Longtin said. "If it wasn't for him, a lot of kids would have probably gone the wrong way, as far as I'm concerned. I want to put out the plea to all the kids around my age to come forward."
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