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  Removed Priest Is Still at Church
Rev. Coonan Apparently Working at St. John

By Richard Nangle
Telegram & Gazette
January 11, 2003

- The Rev. Joseph A. Coonan of St. John Church continues in his role as pastor despite being placed on administrative leave by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly.

"He's pastor here still," said a woman who identified herself as a secretary at the inner-city parish. "So, any decision-making, he does."

In a note addressed to the Telegram & Gazette "Religious Services Column" postmarked Jan. 7, the Rev. Coonan wrote, "One more change in St. John's weekly, Saturday, religious services adv. Please omit: Sunday 10:30 a.m. Mass in Vietnamese which has been eliminated."

The letter, written on St. John's letterhead, is signed: "Thanks, Fr. Coonan."

Worcester Roman Catholic Diocese spokesman Raymond L. Delisle said he had "no doubt" that the Rev. Coonan wrote to the Telegram & Gazette, "but he shouldn't have done it.

"He has not been reinstated at St. John's and is still on administrative leave," Mr. Delisle said.

He said priests on leave because of sexual abuse allegations are not to be on parish grounds or to act in any way as pastor.

An attempt to reach the Rev. Coonan through his lawyer, Joseph Early Jr., was unsuccessful last night.

The Rev. Coonan, revered by many of his parishioners, remains a popular figure despite his removal. He has vehemently denied the charges and expressed disappointment in Bishop Reilly's decision to remove him.

In August, in the days after Bishop Reilly placed him on leave, a large group of supporters that included several current and former elected officials formed a committee to seek the Rev. Coonan's reinstatement. The size of the group dwindled, however, as alleged victims of sexual abuse came forward to tell their stories about their alleged encounters with the Rev. Coonan when he was a teacher and camp counselor in Oxford. A Web site started by his supporters has disappeared.

Through Mr. Early, the Rev. Coonan said the allegations stemmed from his work with heroin addicts at a crisis center that served the Webster, Dudley and Oxford area in 1977, 12 years before his ordination as a priest.

"I ask the parishioners of St. John's to pray for me, my family and for the truth to come out. I will not let these false allegations deter me from my mission of helping those in need. In these times, I believe that many Roman Catholic priests are extremely vulnerable to false allegations," the Rev. Coonan said at the time.

The statement continued, "There are allegations that have been reported about me that are false and baseless in fact, and I intend to fully defend myself against these false accusations. I intend to defend my name, my character and my integrity, and I remain committed to helping people."

It was a statement that angered his alleged victims and prompted some to make their allegations public.

Several alleged victims said that about 15 people had made allegations to state police investigators. They described the Rev. Coonan, during his time as a teacher and camp counselor in Oxford, as someone who wanted to be in their presence while they urinated or defecated.

One man accused the Rev. Coonan of touching his genitals during a ride through Worcester in search of prostitutes who were heroin addicts. He said the Rev. Coonan also urged him and other students who were along for the ride to urinate in his car.

 
 

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