Dracut Parish Says Priest's Move Unfair
By Andy Dabilis
November 29, 1993
Rev. T. Raymond Sullivan stood at the back of tiny St. Mary Magdalen Church at the end of the 11:30 service yesterday morning and quickly was surrounded by supporters who said they don't want him reassigned.
Many churchgoers came over to tell Father Sullivan they believe he is being forced out of the parish, despite being cleared of sexual misconduct charges brought by a woman parishioner.
Marguerite Ryan, 50, a licensed social worker who said some of the people Father Sullivan helped had been referred to her, said: "It's unfair he was cleared and it still feels like he's being punished. We are losing something."
In October, Father Sullivan returned after an 11-month leave, during which officials of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston investigated the misconduct charges. An archdiocesan spokesman, John Walsh, said the probe found "no conclusive evidence" to support the allegations.
Nevertheless, archdiocesan officials recently told parishioners that Father Sullivan had agreed to take an unspecified reassignment Jan. 1.
Father Sullivan, 66, said he had agreed reluctantly because he had served at St. Mary's for 11 years. The church also had been his first assignment after being ordained 36 years ago, when it was open only during the summer for residents in tiny cottages around Lake Mascuppic.
"I have always obeyed my superiors and I always will. After 36 years, this has been a very unfortunate episode," Father Sullivan said.
His supporters said they still hope to convince Cardinal Bernard Law, who approved the pending reassignment, to change his mind. Donna James said: "We were told if he was found innocent, he would be back and all would be well." She said the joy felt on his return was dashed by the news of his reassignment.
The charges came in the midst of a spate of sexual misconduct charges locally and nationally against priests, and some parishioners in the tiny church here by a small lake on the Tyngsborough line say they didn't believe the woman, who archdiocesan officials have not identified.
In a letter to one of Father Sullivan's supporters, who had been seeking to meet with archdiocesan officials, Msgr. William Murphy wrote the agreement for reassignment "came after a long period of prayer and reflection during which a clear conviction emerged that the future good of the parish and the future ministry of Father Sullivan would be better served if a new pastor were named."
The allegations have caused a lasting uneasiness, though, and some of those who said they believed the woman's charges met with her and her family, some parishioners said. They also said that the woman's family continues to come to church to glare at Father Sullivan and that they refuse to take Communion from him.
Another woman who works in the church rectory, who did not want to be identified, said: "I've worked here 35 years and he's the best we've ever had. The man is guilty of nothing."
The mother of the woman who brought the charges, who also did not want to be identified, said neither she nor her daughter could talk about the case without getting approval from a lawyer they had retained.
Walsh said the archdiocese had tried to be "sensitive" to the requests from Father Sullivan's supporters, and said the nature of the misconduct charges would not be made public.
Father Sullivan, 66, said he had been shaken by the charges, but said, "What sustained me was my prayer, the support of the people, and the church."
Before the 11:30 service ended, Ryan stepped outside into a heavy rain to say she did not believe the accusations because no criminal charges had been brought, and no other parishioners had accused him of any wrongdoing. "If there's truth to it, you would see others coming forth and no other accusations have surfaced," she said.
Robert Liston, a retired Lowell police sergeant, said he was doubtful immediately because no legal charges were sought by the woman. He said the archdiocese did not support Father Sullivan, who had to hire his own lawyer. Other churchgoers said they might now withhold donations that go to the archdiocese.
And while many churchgoers said they would fight to keep Father Sullivan at the church, which serves members from half a dozen neighboring communities, including some in New Hampshire, Roy James said he wasn't sure if they would prevail.
"If 100 percent of the people supported him, they'd tell him to leave," said James.
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