Worcester Diocese lists 173 credible allegations of cleric abuse; critics slam report

Worcester Telegram & Gazette [Worcester MA]

February 3, 2023

By Marco Cartolano

Following a review of all cases of sexual abuse of minors since the establishment of the Diocese of Worcester in 1950, the diocese reported Friday that it had identified 173 people who have made credible or substantiated allegations.

The diocese has refused to publish the names of accused priests.

Lawyers who have advocated for people who were sexually abused as minors by priests blasted the report as self-serving, called the Diocese of Worcester especially unhelpful on sex abuse claims, and harshly criticized the diocese for not naming accused priests.

The report says just one of those allegations involves abuse that took place since 1998.

The report, conducted by Bishop Robert J. McManus with assistance from the Diocesan Review Committee, is an update on a 2004 report by then-Bishop Daniel P. Reilly.

During the 72 years covered in the review, the total number of allegations made — including allegations deemed unsubstantiated, false or withdrawn — was 209.

Since publication of the 2004 report, 93 more credible or substantiated allegations have been made.

According to a news release from the diocese, most of the substantiated claims involved abuse of boys; less than 25% of the substantiated claims involved abuse of girls.

Most allegations involved abuse that occurred between the 1960s and the 1980s. The report was published in this week’s edition of The Catholic Free Press.

Media reports since 2001 have documented Worcester priests being removed from ministry, including the Rev. Joseph A. Coonan and the Rev. Thomas E. Mahoney. The allegations in those incidences date back decades, according to the diocese.

The diocese report said that a significant gap often exists between the time abuse is alleged to have occurred and when it is reported. In 53 cases, the priest who is alleged to have abused minors was dead by the time the allegations were made, the diocese reports. https://cm.telegram.com/article-body/inline-desktop-anon_012623_WinterStorms

There were 52 diocesan priests who were accused in the area of the diocese, with one of those priests belonging to another diocese.

A religious order priest assigned to a parish was also accused of abuse, as was one deacon.

Of the credibly accused priests, 36 were dead as of December. Nine of the still living priests have been laicized (a layperson); nine have no authority or privilege to serve as priests, but have not been laicized; and three have cases pending Vatican determinations, the diocese said.

More than half of the allegations deemed credible involve 12 clerics.

Publishing a list ‘divisive, without precedent’

But the diocese has refused to publish a list of names of clerics accused of sexual abuse. In the report, McManus says he does not believe publishing a list would be helpful.

“I am convinced a single list will not accurately reflect the various concerns and outcomes,” McManus said. “In addition to reporting every allegation to law enforcement, we publish and distribute widely information on every priest who is placed on administrative leave due to a credible allegation of sexual abuse of a minor and/or laicized and that information remains available on our website.”

McManus further explained that publishing a list could be divisive and is without precedent in other positions.

“There is no other precedent for the publishing of lists of the accused in society – even of those accused in other positions of trust such as medicine, education or law enforcement,” McManus said. “Such lists can be a cause for deep division among many members of our Church who see this as publicly branding as guilty those who never have been charged by law enforcement or had a chance to defend themselves in a court of law, given the fact that many decades have passed between the alleged abuse and the reporting of that abuse, or because they were already deceased when the allegation was first received.

“That does not stop the diocese from responding to the victims.”

Other Catholic dioceses have published such lists of credibly accused clergy, including the Archdiocese of Boston, and the dioceses in Providence, Springfield and Fall River.

Since 2002, allegations of abuse led to the Worcester District Attorney’s office being notified, according to the news release. Following the U.S. Bishops’ Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, the diocese also established a committee to review all concerns of abuse of minors and advise the diocese.

Lawyers for victims criticize report

Legal advocates for child sex abuse victims involving Catholic priests in Massachusetts had harsh words following the release of the diocese’s report.

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Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has handled several of the highest-profile sexual abuse claims against the Archdiocese of Boston, and who was portrayed by Stanley Tucci in the Academy Award-winning movie “Spotlight,” in a statement called the report self-serving.

“The updated report is a self-serving document created on behalf of the Diocese of Worcester which has allowed the wholesale sexual abuse of children for decades,” Garabedian said. “The updated report is deceptive because the Diocese of Worcester has a history of discouraging clergy sexual abuse victims from reporting the sexual abuse, refusing to reasonably validate their claims through even minor compensation and refusing to recognize that clergy sexual abuse victims who were sexually abused in the 1990s and later are for the most part currently much too young to report having been sexually abused.

“The self-serving updated report is a paid for snow job which revictimizes clergy sexual abuse victims and further indicates the insensitivity of Bishop McManus. In essence, the cover-up of clergy sexual abuse continues by Bishop McManus through the use of this misleading updated report.”

Carmen L. Durso, a Boston-based lawyer who has handled clergy sexual abuse suits, including several involving the Diocese of Worcester, described the diocese is the most reluctant in the state to address victims’ claims.

“They take the strictest stance possible,” Durso said.

He said that he has been involved in cases in Worcester where the diocese has not been able to produce records of meetings or actions involving claims of abuse.

“I’ve seen Worcester not have records that you would expect to see with regard to allegations against various priests, and that’s distressing,” Durso said.

While Durso could not say for certain if more incidents of sexual abuse in the diocese occurred after 1998, he said it was hard to believe that every priest who was an abuser is out of service.

“I find that very hard to believe, you find people who abuse children anyplace where there are children,” he said. “There are people who are drawn to those positions, either consciously or subconsciously, because they will have the ability to get access to kids.”

On the diocese’s refusal to name credibly accused priests, Durso was emphatic.

“That’s just nonsense,” he said. “There is one reason and one reason only why you don’t publish credible accusations. And that’s because you know that it is unlikely that a person who is in a position of authority who abuses somebody will limit himself to one victim.

“Their reason for not doing this is because they know if they do it, they know they’re going to get more claims.”

Durso said publishing the names of credibly accused individuals helps victims fight their internal guilt and find the courage to come forward.