Sex Abuse Claims against Former LI Priest

1010 WINS
New York, NY
March 8, 2005

Norwich, CT - A Roman Catholic priest has been removed from his position as pastor of Sacred Heart Church while church officials investigate sexual abuse allegations against him dating back to the 1970s.

The Rev. R. Thomas McConaghy is accused of molesting a student at the LaSalle Military Academy in Oakdale, N.Y., on Long Island between 1973 and 1975. McConaghy was the academy's commandant at the time, before he became a priest in Norwich in 1981.

The Diocese of Norwich said it learned about the allegations on Feb. 23. The former student reported the alleged abuse to the Rockville Centre diocese and civil authorities in New York.

McConaghy denied the allegations in addresses to Sacred Heart parishioners during Sunday masses. Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote removed McConaghy from Sacred Heart and St. John Mission Church in Fitchville last week and replaced him with the Rev. John White.

``My heart and prayers go out to Father Tom, but in the light of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, there was no other option,'' Cote told parishioners in a letter dated Feb. 28. ``The church has committed itself to creating safe environments for the protection of all young people.''

Parishioners were having trouble coping with the removal of their pastor.

``I was stunned. It came out of nowhere,'' Sacred Heart Parish Council President Dean Bosse said. ``Everybody is visibly shaken. They don't believe it. It just doesn't make sense.''

Margaret Hussey, a 35-year member of the parish, said parishioners stand behind McConaghy and are praying for him and his accuser.

``I don't think anyone thinks any less of him,'' Hussey said.

While the allegations are being investigated, McConaghy cannot administer sacraments. It was unclear whether he could face criminal charges. He could return as pastor if his name is cleared.

``He is still a priest, but he cannot function as a priest,'' said Jacqueline Keller, diocesan director of communications. ``Father denies these charges and he can certainly provide evidence against the allegations.''

The National Council of Catholic Bishops created the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People after the widespread sexual-abuse scandal of recent years that involved hundreds of priests. Based on that, McConaghy is not allowed to live on property owned by the diocese.

Keller said the bishop and Sacred Heart staff know where McConaghy is, but declined to give out contact information.

McConaghy was ordained in the Norwich Diocese in 1981 and served at churches in Pawcatuck and Middlefield before being named administrator of Sacred Heart and St. John's in 1998 and pastor in 1999.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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