Seekonk Priest Placed on Leave Amid Allegations
By Mark Reynolds
Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island)
August 22, 2003
* Authorities are investigating accusations of inappropriate conduct with minors against the Rev. Hernando Herrera, who has been at Our Lady of Mount Carmel since 1999.
* * *
SEEKONK - A local priest and youth minister, accused of "inappropriate conduct with two minors," has been removed from his duties at Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a spokesman for the Diocese of Fall River announced yesterday.
The Rev. Hernando Herrera, a member of the parish since 1999 and a former elementary school teacher with a master's degree in child psychology, will remain on administrative leave until civil authorities, including the Massachusetts Department of Social Services, complete their investigations.
At that point, a review board will examine the allegations against him and decide what the diocese will do, according to diocesan spokesman John Kearns.
The allegations were reported to the state shortly after Bishop George W. Coleman learned about the case last Friday, said Kearns.
Both Kearns and a spokeswoman for Social Services, Denise Monteiro, declined to provide details of the allegations.
Several Mount Carmel parishioners expressed confidence in Father Herrera's innocence yesterday.
"I just can't imagine him doing it," said Joanne Hanson, a 62-year-old parishioner from Rehoboth who said Father Herrera's sermons were moving, particularly the homilies he gave to members of the church's youth group.
"I think he's a very caring person," she said. "I think he shows a lot of empathy toward people."
She said she would pray for Father Herrera, no matter what investigators conclude about the allegations. "That's what the Catholic Church is all about."
Donna Castle, another parishioner, echoed Hanson's sentiments and said she hoped the parish's difficulties would bring it together.
"Being the very loving caring community that our parish is," said Castle. "When one is hurting, we're all hurting."
Kearns said Bishop Coleman met with Mount Carmel's parish council and other parishioners Tuesday night, offering prayers and support.
He also delivered a letter that will be read to everyone who attends Mass at the church this weekend.
The church declined to provide a copy of the letter yesterday, except for the excerpts contained in a press release.
"These matters weigh heavily on us and I know the terrible impact that they can have on the youngsters involved and on the life of the parish," wrote Bishop Coleman, who became bishop July 22, replacing Bishop Sean O'Malley.
"As your new bishop, it saddens me that I must address this letter to you," Bishop Coleman's letter said. "I want to assure you, the devoted parishioners of Mount Carmel Parish, of my prayers during these difficult days. I ask your prayers for the youngsters involved, for Father Herrera, and for all who, in whatever manner, may be affected by these sad circumstances."
DSS was notified last Friday. Agency investigators have 10 days to investigate and write a preliminary report on their findings.
Seekonk police said yesterday they had not been notified of the allegations.
Until last week, Father Herrera served as a parochial vicar at Mount Carmel, assisting the parish's pastor, the Rev. George Harrison.
Father Herrera arrived in 1999, one year after his ordination.
He earned his master's at Pennsylvania State University in 1991 and his bachelor's degree from the University of Virginia.
He studied theology from 1993 to 1998 at St. John Seminary, Brighton. He served educational assignments at St. Ann parish, Raynham; the diocesan Office of AIDS Ministry, Fall River; the religious-education program at St. Ann's parish, Somerset; Our Lady of Guadalupe parish, New Bedford; the Family AIDS Project, Dorchester; and at St. Mary Cathedral parish, Fall River.
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