December 21, 2018
By Charlie Specht
Kathy Wagner and Debbie Pirog have been parishioners at St. John the Baptist Church in Alden for decades.
But never have they seen a controversy like the one that’s been brewing for months in their country parish.
In February, Bishop Richard J. Malone appointed Deborah Brown as the first lay woman parish administrator. St. John’s has functioned this year without a priest and has been a test case for a new model to deal with a shortage of men in the clergy.
“I assure you, you will be very well shepherded,” Malone told parishioners at the time.
But Brown now faces multiple allegations of sexual harassment. The allegations — while not as serious as those leveled against abusive priests — have caused controversy in the parish and have called into question how the diocese deals with complaints.
‘It was a very sexual kiss’
“I went out of Mass at 4 o’clock, and she hugged me real tight, and kissed me on the mouth,” said Wagner, adding that Brown held her body uncomfortably tight during the kiss.
The 87-year-old grandmother said Brown did it again weeks later, and then a third time. Wagner wrote a letter to Bishop Malone in October saying Brown “hugged me closely and kissed me firmly on the mouth.”
“Another woman wouldn’t kiss me like that, even my own sisters,” Wagner said. “My children would never kiss me like that. It was a very sexual kiss.”
Pirog had a similar experience, except she said Brown came up to her in the parish rectory, approached her from behind and “put her body against mine and her head on my shoulder,” according to an August letter she wrote to Bishop Malone.
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