Accused Pastor Resigns

By Brian Lyman
Norwich (CT) Bulletin
July 3, 2004

The pastor of Most Holy Trinity Parish in Pomfret resigned last week after learning he has been accused of sexual abuse dating back 30 years.

The Rev. Paul L. Hebert, 72, who had been the church's pastor since 1981, stepped down after informing parishioners at Mass last weekend.

"My heart goes out to Father," the Most Rev. Michael R. Cote, bishop of the Norwich Diocese, said in a letter to parishioners, to be distributed in Most Holy Trinity's bulletin and read during Masses this weekend. "But in the light of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, there was no other option but for Father Hebert to step down as your pastor. The Church has committed itself to creating safe environments for the protection of all young people."

Hebert denies the unspecified allegations, made by an unnamed male to the diocese and purported to have taken place 30 years ago. Hebert, ordained in 1959, was pastor of St. Michael's Parish in Pawcatuck from 1971 to 1981. He has also served at parishes in Norwich, Old Saybrook, Montville and Clinton.

Parishioners were stunned by the news. Some are attempting to organize a legal defense fund for Hebert.

"I was absolutely just shocked, and my first words were 'I don't believe it,'" said Marilyn Ebbitt, a Most Holy Trinity parishioner and headmistress of Marianapolis Preparatory School in Thompson. "Complete and total disbelief. My eyes filled up with tears, and I said, `That's just not true.'"

Joseph Brannigan, another parishioner and owner of a food delivery service, was present at the 4 p.m. Mass on June 25, where Hebert announced his resignation.

"He asked us to pray for the person that brought these allegations, and not to take any blame out on a new priest that came in to replace him," he said.

Parishioners described Hebert as a warm and humorous pastor. He has been in poor health in recent years, and has dealt with heart and kidney trouble. But he kept up a full schedule of Masses, taking a scooter to services and walking with a cane to the altar.

"He walks with great pain," Ebbitt said. "You see that. But he's there. He's just there."

Approximately 630 families are registered with Most Holy Trinity.

The Diocese of Norwich has had a policy to prevent the sexual abuse of minors in place since 1990. An audit of the Diocese released by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in January found the Diocese was in compliance with the Charter.

The diocese has been touched by the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church. In March 2003, the diocese settled a lawsuit with a man who claimed he had been molested numerous times in the early and late 1990s. New London attorney Robert Reardon, who represented unnamed man, has three other cases of abuse pending against the diocese. The incidents in those cases allegedly took place in the 1970s.

In January, the Rev. Santino A. Casimano resigned as principal of St. Bernard's High School in Montville after two brothers accused him of abusing them in California in the late 70s.

[bmlyman@norwichbulletin. com]


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