Ex-Nun Named in Sex-Abuse Suit
The former nun accused of sexually abusing a minor once taught at Mater Dolorosa School in Holyoke

By Stephanie Barry
[Springfield MA] Republican
December 30, 2004

SPRINGFIELD - In a first for the region, a former nun is among local clergy accused of sexually abusing minors in a suit filed yesterday by five men.

The suit targeting the former nun, three priests and a former Boy Scout leader was filed in Hampden Superior Court the same day the local Catholic diocese removed the Rev. Michael H. Devlin, 62, from ministry in an unrelated case following molestation allegations.

The suit, filed anonymously under the names John Doe, also accuses the Springfield Roman Catholic Diocese of conspiring to cover up the abuse, which allegedly began decades ago.

All but former nun Mary Jane Vidnansky have previously been named in sexual abuse lawsuits. Two deceased priests - J. Roy Jenness and Thomas J. O'Connor - also are named in the lawsuit along with the Rev. Alfred C. Graves, former Boy Scout leader Bruce A. Mooney, the Boy Scouts of America and the diocese.

One of five John Does behind yesterday's claim said the nun, once a member of the Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph who taught at Mater Dolorosa School in Holyoke, became pregnant during a two-year sexual relationship in the mid-1970s.

A lawyer for the men said Vidnansky told the alleged victim she had had an abortion and left the order in 1976. He also said the plaintiff provided an old report card signed by Vidnansky, photographs of the woman he says were shot in his bedroom and a lock of her hair.

"He ended the relationship when he started to become interested in people his own age. He said she pursued him. He's really been shattered by the whole experience," said Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso, who represents the men along with Springfield lawyer Ryan E. Alekman.

Vidnansky lives in Connecticut, according to court records. A woman by the same name with a Connecticut phone listing did not return a call for comment yesterday.

A member of the New York-based Franciscan Sisters of St. Joseph said Vidnansky was no longer a member, but provided no additional information. The order, not the diocese, runs Mater Dolorosa School.

Graves is among several priests on "monitored" status in the local diocese, a netherworld between active ministry and defrocking that offers continued financial support but prohibits him from priestly privileges such as saying Mass or wearing a collar in public. The status typically follows allegations of sexual misconduct that have been found to be credible, a diocesan spokeswoman said.

Yesterday's lawsuit is rife with decades-old allegations of continued sexual abuse of teen and adolescent boys involving Mooney and the priests at an unnamed Boy Scout campsite run by Great Trails Council Inc., a Dalton-based scouting organization.

Durso said yesterday he believes several local priests were involved in a "victim-swapping" network.

Richard D. Stritzinger, executive director of the local council, said Mooney is no longer a member of the Boy Scouts and has not been in recent years. He declined to comment on the claim, saying he had not been served with a copy, but said the Boy Scouts have a zero-tolerance policy against sexual abuse.

"One experience is too many," Stritzinger said. He said the council, which governs Scout activities in Berkshire, Franklin and Hampshire counties, runs several camps.

Among the other allegations in the lawsuit:

- One alleged victim said he was abused 1971-73, starting when he was 12, by Jenness at Blessed Sacrament Church in Greenfield and other places; Mooney allegedly took part in the abuse by providing the plaintiff with alcohol and drugs.

- Another plaintiff said he was raped by Graves 1969-71, starting when he was about 15, at Our Lady of Sacred Heart Church in Springfield and other places.

- A fourth plaintiff said he was abused 1952-53, starting when he was 16, by O'Connor at St. Patrick's Church in Monson after the victim went to the priest for spiritual counseling.

- The fifth plaintiff said he was assaulted up to 70 times 1969-72 by Jenness, at times when O'Connor and Mooney were present.

Mooney, of Greenfield, and Graves, of Vermont, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

Mooney, Jenness and O'Connor were named in similar lawsuits, including one filed in 2003 by four brothers from Greenfield who also alleged they were abused at a Boy Scout campsite.

That case is pending. Durso said he intends to settle that suit as well as the newest one, which includes four plaintiffs from Hampden County and one who has relocated. The plaintiffs in yesterday's claim share no connection other than the alleged abuse.

Diocesan spokeswoman Laura Failla Reilly would not comment on the suit yesterday, saying diocesan lawyers had not yet seen it. She said the diocese will begin reviewing new cases for possible mediation after the local church recovers financially from a $7.5 million settlement with 45 alleged clergy abuse victims.

In an unrelated case, Devlin was removed from active ministry yesterday after being suspended in October.

A three-month investigation by the diocesan Review Board followed allegations Devlin abused a minor in the early 1970s at St. Thomas Parish in West Springfield and All Souls Parish in Springfield. He was most recently the chaplain for Providence Place, a retirement home for clergy in Holyoke.

Devlin's lawyer, John Bryson of Chicopee, did not respond to a request for comment yesterday.

The board's decision is final and not subject to appeal, unless Devlin seeks relief from the Vatican, Reilly said.


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