Conte Closes Priest Sex Abuse Cases
Statute of Limitations Issues End Investigations

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette
May 20, 2003

District Attorney John J. Conte has closed criminal investigations into alleged sexual misconduct by six suspended Worcester diocese priests, because of statute of limitations issues.

Meanwhile, Mr. Conte has asked Canadian authorities to take over his investigation of a seventh priest, the Rev. John J. Bagley, who allegedly took a Worcester youth to Canada during the 1970s and sexually abused him.

The closed investigations involve the Rev. Gerald P. Walsh, who last served at St. Roch parish, Oxford; the Rev. Raymond P. Messier of St. Francis parish, Athol, and St. Peter parish, Petersham; the Rev. Chester Devlin of St. Bernadette parish, Northboro; the Rev. Joseph A. Coonan of St. John parish, Worcester; the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo of St. Leo parish, Leominster; and the Rev. Lee F. Bartlett of Sacred Heart of Jesus parish, Worcester.

Mr. Conte has forwarded the files from his investigation of Rev. Bagley to the Toronto Police Service. The alleged incident is beyond the Massachusetts statute of limitations, which means Mr. Conte cannot prosecute the priest here, he said.

He discovered during his investigation that Canada does not have a statute of limitations for this type of crime, so he turned over the file to Canadian authorities, he said.

The media relations office for the Toronto Police Service had no information on the files that Mr. Conte said were handed over to them in late April. The sexual crimes unit in Toronto did not immediately return telephone calls seeking comment.

Mr. Conte said his investigation into allegations against Rev. Bagley turned up more than one victim. One alleged victim has asked the district attorney's office to pursue the case, Mr. Conte said.

Rev. Bagley, a former Vatican official and diocesan vocations director who last served as pastor at St. Mary's parish, North Grafton, was removed and placed on administrative leave in February 2002 by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly. The removal followed an allegation made to the diocese by a man, now in his 40s, who claimed he was raped by Rev. Bagley in 1967 when he was serving at Christ the King parish.

That alleged victim has not wanted to be publicly identified, and the incident is beyond the statute of limitations.

From 1972 to 1974, Rev. Bagley was in Rome where he was assigned to the Papal Audience Office for American Bishops and served as assistant superior of the Graduate House of Students at the North American College. He was assigned to Blessed Sacrament parish in 1971 and Our Lady of Mount Carmel after transferring from Christ the King. He also served with the Newman Apostolate at Worcester State College in 1971.

Mr. Conte said he investigated the six other priests removed last year by the bishop and found all the allegations refer to incidents beyond the statute of limitations, which cannot be prosecuted. He said although these investigations have been closed, they can be reopened if new information emerges.

Mr. Conte added that he has investigations going regarding allegations made against two other priests who are no longer serving in the diocese. He said his investigators are still trying to determine whether the statute of limitations into these cases still apply.

A court in Montreal has continued until September the case of the Rev. Paul M. Desilets who is accused of sexually abusing 18 altar boys when he was serving at Assumption parish in Bellingham. Mr. Conte has been seeking his extradition back to the United States to face the 32 indictments returned a year ago by a Worcester County grand jury.

Rev. Desilets, member of the Clerics of St. Viator religious order, returned to Canada in 1984 where he has remained. The alleged incidents happened in Bellingham between 1978 and 1984. Rev. Desilets has been fighting the extradition.


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