Harrington's Testimony Contradicts Priest's
[This article was scanned by BishopAccountability.org from a copy in the Sylvia Demarest archive.]
Worcester - Retired Bishop Timothy J. Harrington testified yesterday that he never asked the Rev. Ronald D. Provost if the priest had taken photographs of nude boys.
The retired bishop's testimony clearly contradicted the priest's account of a 1980 meeting between the two in which Harrington suggested that Provost undergo counseling. Harrington said the suggestion was made to help Provost in "broadening his ministry," not because he suspected the priest had a problem of a sexual nature.
Harrington, Provost and the Worcester Diocese are defendants in a civil lawsuit. The suit was brought on behalf of a Bane boy photographed in various stages of undress by Provost four years ago while he was pastor of St. Joseph's Church in Barre. The photographs were taken Jan. 11, 1992, in the locker room of an indoor pool in Gardner during a swim night organized by Provost.
The boy, who was not a member of St. Joseph's Church, was 10 at the time. Provost was later convicted on a criminal charge of soliciting a child to pose in a state of nudity in connection with the pictures.
The civil suit, filed by the boy's father, seeks monetary damages under a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against Provost and negligent supervision claims against Harrington and the diocese.
Testimony began Jan. 18 in Worcester Superior Court. It is believed to be the first such case against the Worcester diocese to go to trial.
Harrington, who was animated at times during his testimony and appeared weary at others, was questioned at length by the boy's lawyer, Nathaniel D. Pitnof, about a meeting with Provost in 1980, while Provost was assigned to Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Worcester.
Harrington, represented by Worcester lawyer James G. Reardon, said he was contacted in 1980 by the Rev. John Capouano, then pastor of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, who showed him some photographs found in Provost's room. Harrington testified he did not recall Father Capouano's exact words, but told the jury, "The impression I had was that this was something that did not meet with his approval."
Harrington, then auxiliary bishop and vicar for priests, said he was shown about a dozen photographs of boys ages 10 to 12 who appeared to be having a pillow fight in a dormitory or barracks setting. Some of the boys in the photos were dressed in underwear and others were in pajamas, he said.
"I really didn't see anything bad in those pictures I remember saying I don't think these are so bad as you are judging them, John," Harrington said.
Harrington said Capouano also used the meeting with him as "an opportunity to tell me about other complaints that he had about Father Provost, among which were his paying attention, giving most of his attention to the young and the very old, and not reaching out to the young adults, teen-agers, young marrieds and so on in the parish. " While serving as a priest in the diocese, Provost was known for organizing youth activities.
Harrington said he relayed Capouano's concerns to then Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan and later met with Provost. "Without ordering him, with no imperatives at all, I suggested that perhaps it would help if he went to the House of Affirmation to get some career counseling to see if he could broaden his ministry," Harrington said of his meeting with Provost.
"I didn't send him. It was a recommendation that he took," the bishop said.
"I never, never, never asked him about pictures of nude boys because I had no cause to," Harrington said.
Asked by Pitnof if it did not seem unusual to him that a priest would have photographs of boys in "a bedroom setting," Harrington replied, "Well, at the time, it didn't. I thought he was capturing in his snapshot one of the fun moments that these kids were having, a pillow fight."
Harrington said he never followed up on Provost's treatment at the House of Affirmation by asking Provost to sign a release that would have let Harrington obtain the counseling records.
After being questioned by police about the 1992 incident that resulted in a criminal charge against him, Provost admitted to investigators he had taken photographs of young boys "mooning" in the past and had used the pictures for sexual stimulation.
"I didn't know and I don't think anybody knew up until the time he talked to the sergeant," Harrington said. "I'm on record as having said when I was bishop that any priest found to be abusing a kid is no longer to serve in this diocese.
"If any of you are mothers or fathers," he said to the jurors, "you know that sometimes Daddy is the last to know or Mommy is the last to know. Right now, for all I know, there's a priest double-parked someplace. How can I know that?"
Provost's account of the 1980 meeting with Harrington differed from Harrington's. Provost, represented by Louis P. Aloise, said Harrington asked him at the time if he had ever taken any photographs of nude boys. Provost also testified that Harrington sent him to the House of Affirmation, a treatment center for clergy, where he said he was treated on an outpatient basis for several months.
Provost said in a sworn, pretrial deposition that his treatment at the House of Affirmation was for a "sexual addiction. " He testified at trial, however, that he did not fully understand what a sexual addiction was or that he had one until after he was charged criminally in 1992 and treated at St. Luke's Institute, a psychiatric hospital in Maryland.
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