The Days of Placing the Church's Reputation above the Interests of Children Are Over
Accused Priest Was Substitute Teacher
By Sean Gonsalves
Cape Cod Times
November 25, 2003
FALMOUTH - Falmouth High School officials say they had no idea that a former priest who taught Portuguese at the school for a decade was an accused pedophile.
Gilbert Simoes, 70, of Falmouth, was a regular substitute teacher at the high schoolfrom 1989 until the 1997-98 school year, Falmouth Schools Supt. Peter Clark confirmed yesterday.
In March 1986, Simoes was suspended by then Fall River Diocese Bishop Daniel A. Cronin.
"The allegations of abuse were brought to the attention of the diocese and his priestly faculties were removed," Fall River Diocese spokesman John Kearns said yesterday.
Repeated attempts to contact Simoes at his home in Falmouth have been unsuccessful.
His name surfaced publicly last week as an heir in the contested will of the Rev. Bernard Kelly, 70, of Cummaquid. Kelly and the Rev. Donald Turlick, 68, of Mashpee, are central figures in the Jonathan Wessner murder investigation.
The two priests befriended and helped convicted child rapist Paul Nolin, 39, after he was released from prison three years ago. Nolin, who rented an apartment in Turlick's home for two years, was indicted last month for the Sept. 20 kidnapping and murder of Wessner, 20, who had attended Falmouth High School.
Kelly is now under investigation for misappropriating $50,000 in parish funds from St. Joseph's church in Woods Hole, where he was pastor until last month. He resigned from the diocese last week.
How Simoes and Kelly know each other was unclear yesterday. But about the time Kelly became pastor of St. Joseph's, Simoes voluntarily resigned from his substitute teaching job at the high school.
"In 1998 we received a letter from (Simoes), stating he would not be available for the following year. By the report of others who worked with him, Mr. Simoes was responsible and we had no reports of any inappropriate behavior."
The Falmouth school system did not institute mandatory criminal background checks on school employees until several years after Simoes began working at Falmouth High, Clark said.
He is deeply disturbed to learn of the allegations against Simoes, especially since school officials were unaware they employed a man accused of pedophilia. The alleged assaults occurred during the period Simoes was assigned to two different Catholic schools - St. Michael's in Fall River from 1962 to 1965, and Our Lady of Mount Carmel in New Bedford from 1966 to 1972.
List released in 2002
But even if Falmouth schools officials had checked Simoes' criminal background, nothing would have come up because the allegations against Simoes were not made public until September 2002. That's when Bristol County District Attorney Paul F. Walsh released a list of 21 Fall River Diocese priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct.
The second name on that list is that of Simoes. Six people filed complaints against Simoes with diocese officials alleging he sexually assaulted them. Fall River Bishop Sean O'Malley gave the information to the district attorney office when he was asked to do so.
But the cases against Simoes, and 19 of the other priests on Walsh's list, were not prosecuted because the statute of limitations had expired, Thomas Carroll, chief sex crimes investigator for the Bristol County District Attorney's office said last week.
"We took statements (about Simoes) from six people. We would have given serious consideration to prosecuting him."
Yesterday, Cape & Islands District Attorney Michael O'Keefe said he received information from the Fall River Diocese identifying "three potential victims" of Simoes, dating back to 1964.
"As we began to receive information from the Archdiocese of Boston, we reached out to the Fall River Diocese," O'Keefe said. He did so because he assumed that priests who sexually abused people in their home parishes may have abused people on the Cape while on vacation or assisting Cape parishes.
O'Keefe sent letters to the attorneys of Simoes' two known alleged victims, the third victim was unnamed, but when they discovered the statute of limitations had expired no further action was taken.
Also, after O'Keefe issued a public appeal for alleged victims of any Cape priest to come forward, two did so - one of whom named the Rev. Jose Avila, Simoes' mentor and longtime pastor of St. Anthony's Parish in East Falmouth.
While Simoes was never officially assigned to St. Anthony's he was a regular visitor, according to a parishioner who attended church and catechism classes during the 1950s and early 1960s.
Kearns confirmed that Simoes and Avila were both on the list of accused priests Fall River Diocese officials sent to O'Keefe's office last spring.
O'Malley, who replaced Cardinal Bernard Law as bishop of the Boston archdiocese last summer, "voluntarily submitted those names to the DA (district attorney) when he expressed an interest in these days of heightened awareness of clergy abuse," Kearns said.
Two complaints were filed with O'Keefe's office accusing Avila of sexual assault, but not only had the statute of limitations past but Avila had died in1988. He is buried in the "Clergy Burial Grounds" behind St. Anthony's.
Next to Avila's grave site is a headstone designated for Simoes.
Last week, Simoes gained public attention when Douglas Kelly filed a suit in Barnstable because he had been written out of his brother Bernard Kelly's will.
Kelly changed his will in August, reducing Douglas' inheritance from half his estate, which has an estimated value of $4 million, to $10,000. Kelly then added Nolin's name to the will, leaving him half of his 4.3-acre horse farm on Route 6A in Cummaquid and several lots in Otis.
Simoes was also added to the will and bequeathed $10,000.
The will was changed after Nolin was arrested for Wessner's murder, according to Kelly's lawyer, Francis O'Boy. Details of the new will have not been available.
Clark is frustrated that Simoes, with his background, was able to teach at the high school.
Though allegations of sexual abuse were in Simoes file, there was no indication that the Falmouth School Department contacted the diocese for a reference when Simoes first began teaching Portuguese at the high school, Kearns said.
O'Keefe sympathized with Clark's frustration, pointing out that because the allegations reach back decades, the statute of limitations rendered law enforcement officials powerless.
"I'm under no illusion that this problem is over with. What we've seen in the last few weeks is illustrative of that," O'Keefe added, referring to the connections between Nolin, Turlick and Kelly.
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