Worcester only diocese in Mass. not to release list of priests credibly accused of sex abuse

The Republican - MassLive [Springfield MA]

December 7, 2022

By Kiernan Dunlop

In the two decades since widespread child abuse within the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston came to light, every diocese in Massachusetts has released a list of priests credibly accused of sex abuse — except the Diocese of Worcester.

“There is no public precedent for the publishing of lists of the accused — such as those accused in other positions of trust such as medicine, education or law enforcement,” Ray Delisle, a spokesperson for the Diocese of Worcester, said in an email addressing the diocese’s lack of a list.

The diocese publishes and distributes information on each priest who is placed on administrative leave and/or laicized and that information remains public on its website, according to Delisle.

Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented survivors in their claims against the Catholic Church nationally and internationally, told MassLive Friday it is important to have a list of credibly accused clergy publicized because it helps victims heal and gives them a small degree of closure.

It also helps send a message to survivors that they are not alone and the sexual abuse was not their fault, according to Garabedian.

In 2011, Cardinal Sean O’Malley released a list of 159 of the 248 priests and deacons that had been accused of child sex abuse within the Archdiocese of Boston since 1950. He said at the time that he declined to release 91 of the names because they were either deceased priests who weren’t publicly accused, those working in Boston under religious orders or other dioceses or priests named in unsubstantiated allegations the never went public.

Currently, the Archdiocese’s website lists 133 clergy accused of sexual abuse broken down into five categories.

The Diocese of Springfield, following the suit of the archdiocese, released its list the same day as O’Malley in 2011.

In June 2021, pledging a new era of transparency and the healing, the Diocese of Springfield updated its list of credibly accused clergy and nonreligious personnel, growing it in number from 21 to 61.

The updated list included previously excluded categories, such as dead priests, laity and clergy from religious orders who were not ordained in the Springfield diocese but served in various assignments locally.

Before updating the list, the Springfield diocese performed a systematic review of all case files of available allegation of sexual abuse by clergy and diocesan personnel. The review was performed by a team of advisers that included a retired Springfield Police Captain.

Nearly a decade after Boston and Springfield released their original lists, the Diocese of Fall River released its own list on Jan. 7, 2021, leaving Worcester as the only diocese in the state not to release a list.

“The review of Diocesan records, some going back 70 years, was incredibly arduous and time consuming,” Bishop of Fall River Edgar M. da Cunha wrote in a letter that accompanied the publication of the list. “While this review has taken longer than first anticipated, it was crucial that we took the time we needed to do it right.”

The list the diocese produced has three categories: credibly accused, publicly accused and cases in progress. Currently, 58 men are on the credibly accused list, 20 are on the publicly accused list and there are no cases in progress in the diocese.

“It is my prayerful and deepest hope that the publication of this list help in the ongoing healing and care of survivors of clergy sexual abuse,” da Cunha wrote in his letter. “They are of paramount concern to me and remain always in my prayers.”

Garabedian said he’s requested the Diocese of Worcester release a list in the past but, “you’re talking to a stone wall,” he said referring to the Bishop of Worcester, Robert Joseph McManus.

He said the diocese and McManus have their “heads in the sand” when it comes to church sexual abuse and are hoping the crisis will go away as time elapses.

“The way Bishop McManus has treated clergy sexual abuse victims is disgraceful,” Garabedian said.

Other alleged sexual abuse in Worcester

This year the diocese has been in the news not for clergy sexual abuse, but sexual abuse committed by a lay member of its staff.

The diocese announced in March that it would be placing William ‘Billy’ Riley, the then-director of the St. John Food for the Poor Program, on administrative leave pending an investigation of claims into “illegal activity involving adults.”

At the conclusion of the investigation, Riley resigned from his position. However, the diocese did not share if the claims against Riley were warranted or if any legal action was being taken against him. The section of a report the diocese released that stated if the claims were warranted was redacted before its release to the public.

During the course of the investigation Nikki Bell, CEO and founder of Living in Freedom Together (LIFT) and Michelle Montejunas, came forward and alleged Riley paid them for sexual acts which they felt they had to perform if they wanted to continue to access the food pantry, which MassLive detailed in an April 24 article. At the time of the alleged abuse, both women were homeless and the food pantry was one of their only sources for food and warmth during the winter.

LIFT’s Board of Directors called the report the diocese released an offense to survivors.

The report was redacted in a way that “clearly showcase an intention to protect a perpetrator,” the Board of Directors said in a statement, as opposed to with the intent of protecting the anonymity of victims.

Worcester’s treatment of past sex abuse cases

The Diocese of Worcester has handled clergy sex abuse differently over the years.

In 2004, then-Bishop of Worcester Daniel Reilly released a report on clergy sexual abuse within the diocese that cited there were 112 allegations of abuse from 1950 through 2003 at that time.

Of those allegations, 48 were substantiated and 31 were considered credible. At the time the report was released the diocese had paid out $2,280,833 to victims of abuse with an additional $185,879 spent on victim counseling, services and therapy, according to the report.

The report did not publicize the name of the clergy with substantiated or credible claims against them.

Just months after the report was released in February, McManus was appointed Bishop of Worcester in May 2004.

During his tenure, the diocese has released statements when a priest is placed on administrative leave and/or laicized and that information remains public. The diocese has not released any press releases related to settlements or settlement amounts it has reached with survivors.

Most recently, the diocese announced the laicization of Ronald Provost in Nov. 2021.

Provost was removed from the ministry in 1992 and found guilty in 1993 of taking semi-nude photographs of a 10-year-old boy in a pool locker room in Gardner.

In the press release announcing Provost’s laicization, the diocese wrote that it was found compliant in a 2021 audit. The audits are performed yearly in Roman Catholic dioceses in the United States that adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.

The charter established procedures to address allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

The press release stated said the diocese had received four new reports of abuse in the year ending in June 2021 that all occurred prior to 1981 and was in contact with 14 victims and their families who made reports prior to July 2020.

The most recent compliance letter that is available on the diocese website is from 2020.

The amount of information the diocese includes in its press releases about laicization has changed over the years. The Nov. 2021 press release only named Provost.

In Jan. 2018, a press release announcing the laicization of Peter Inzerillo also included a list of men removed from the clergy in the diocese of Worcester since 2011.

The list included David BlizardGerard Branconnier, Lowe B. DongorThomas KaneRobert E. Kelly, Robert Sharius and Thomas Teczar.

The diocese settled with a victim in 1999 who claimed Inzerillo sexually assaulted him when he was 19 years old. That same victim claimed he was assaulted by Rev. Brendan O’Donoghue when he was a 13-year-old altar boy.

An Aug. 2020 press release announcing the laicization of Lee Bartlett also included the same list of men named in the Jan. 2018 press release but updated to include Inzerillo.

In 2002, while serving as pastor of Sacred Heart in Worcester, Bartlett was accused of allegedly molesting a 13-year-old boy during weekends at the priest’s Eastham home in the 1970s, the Telegram & Gazette reported.

The weekends allegedly included Bartlett enticing the victim and other boys with alcohol while showing them pornographic movies on a projector. Bartlett is also accused of organizing an event called “the Greek Olympics” that had the boys run naked trough the neighborhood at night.

It is unclear why the diocese has stopped including the list of men that had been removed from clergy in its most recent press releases.

The Diocese of Worcester’s decision not to publicize a list of credibly accused clergy indicates to Garabedian that “Bishop McManus doesn’t care at all about the emotional well-being of clergy sexual abuse victims.”

He said McManus should be ashamed of himself.

In a letter posted to the diocese’s website, McManus wrote that he and the diocese has been and continues to be committed to responding to victims of past abuse and to the protection of children in their midst today as well as to the reporting of any cases brought to their attention to law enforcement, no matter how many years ago they occurred.