5 Pastors Give Reilly Resignations

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette
June 4, 2003

WORCESTER - The Worcester Catholic Diocese yesterday said that five of six pastors accused of sexual misconduct have tendered their resignations to Bishop Daniel P. Reilly.

The Rev. Joseph A. Coonan, pastor of St. John parish, was not asked to resign, according to his lawyer, Joseph D. Early Jr.

The diocese announced yesterday that resignations have been submitted by the Rev. Raymond P. Messier of St. Peter parish, Petersham, and St. Francis of Assisi parish, Athol; the Rev. Chester J. Devlin of St. Bernadette parish, Northboro; the Rev. John J. Bagley of St. Mary parish, North Grafton; the Rev. Gerard Walsh of St. Roch parish, Oxford; and the Rev. Lee F. Bartlett of Sacred Heart parish, Worcester.

Bishop Reilly removed the pastors last year following allegations of sexual misconduct, and they have been on administrative leave.

Although the priests have resigned as pastors, they are still priests of the diocese. Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan spokesman, said they are still on administrative leave and cannot engage in "public ministry in this diocese or elsewhere."

The Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo, associate pastor at St. Leo parish in Leominster, is still on administrative leave. He was removed as pastor of St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg in 1994, and later resigned as pastor. Rev. Coonan also remains on administrative leave.

Rev. Coonan still retains the loyalty of many of his parishioners. A petition recently was sent to the bishop asking that he be restored to his position. In Rev. Coonan's case, allegations of misconduct are alleged to have happened before he was ordained as a priest.

Another priest, the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon, pastor of St. Augustine parish, Millville, took personal leave, and is not on administrative leave although a civil suit was filed alleging sexual abuse of an underage boy in Worcester.

The resignations were announced last week in each of the six parishes where the priests served. "All the resignations were offered for the good of the parishes involved and for the sake of the Church as a whole so that the communities may move forward in their missions," a statement from the diocese said.

The diocese intends to appoint new permanent pastors to the affected parishes.


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