Marrero Church Hears of Claims
Parishioners Urged to Remain Faithful

By Aesha Rasheed
Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
January 26, 2004

Following a Mass focused on unity and faith, parishioners of Visitation of Our Lady Catholic Church learned from archdiocese officials Sunday that their pastor has been put on indefinite leave in response to a charge of sexual abuse of a minor.

On Saturday evening, the Archdiocese of New Orleans announced that the Rev. Michael Fraser has been placed on leave and forbidden to function as a priest. Earlier this month, the archdiocese received a complaint alleging that Fraser sexually abused a child in the mid-1980s while he served at Sts. Peter and Paul parish in Pearl River. Last week, the archdiocese's lay review board judged the complaint credible.

At each of four Sunday Masses at Visitation of Our Lady, the Rev. William Maestri, archdiocese spokesman, read a letter to parishioners from Archbishop Alfred Hughes explaining Fraser's removal and urging worshipers to remain faithful.

"During this crisis time, let us turn to Our Lady of Visitation ... and follow her example," Hughes' letter read in part.

As they left the Marrero church and attempted to dodge Sunday morning rain storms, parishioners could be heard discussing the troubling news, but most declined to comment to waiting media. Those who did speak displayed a mix of emotions from shock to relief at the archdiocese response to the abuse allegations.

"I understand that sins can be forgiven, but I have a grandson, and I wouldn't want anything to happen to him," said Joy Callais of Marrero, who has been a parishioner since 1972.

Another woman, who did not want to give her name, said she was stunned at the news but not precisely surprised, as she was a church member when another allegation of sex abuse against Fraser surfaced in October.

"I was really shocked then," she said.

Fraser and the archdiocese are currently defending against an allegation in civil court that he abused another boy in the Pearl River parish in the early or mid-1990s. Visitation of Our Lady members were told of that complaint in October, but Fraser was not removed because Hughes and the archdiocese's lay review panel were not convinced the complaint was credible.

During Sunday morning services, at which a substitute priest officiated, church leaders made almost no reference to Fraser's removal or the allegations, saying only that a statement from Hughes would be read at the end of services.

In his written statement, Hughes told parishioners that a decision on Fraser's replacement would be made this week.


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