Bishop Removes Norwich Pastor

By Brian Wallheimer
Norwich Bulletin [Norwich CT]
March 8, 2005

NORWICH — Many parishioners at Sacred Heart Church in Norwichtown, were still stunned Monday after hearing their pastor has been removed because of sexual-abuse allegations dating back to the 1970s, before he became a priest.

The allegations against the Rev. R. Thomas McConaghy date back to 1973-75, when he was commandant of LaSalle Military Academy in Oakdale, N.Y., on Long Island.

Norwich Bishop Michael R. Cote removed McConaghy from St. John Mission Church in Fitchville, as well as Sacred Heart, a week ago 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."

McConaghy denied the accusation in addresses to parishioners at Sacred Heart during Sunday’s Masses.

"I was stunned. It came out of nowhere," 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.

"I don’t think anyone thinks any less of him," Hussey said. "I think he has the support of the parish."

Bosse said he and the church members are praying for McConaghy and the accuser, something the priest asked them to do Sunday when he addressed them.

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

Jacqueline Keller, diocesan director of communications, said McConaghy cannot administer sacraments until his name is cleared.

"He is still a priest, but he cannot function as a priest," Keller said. "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.

The charter also states that it is up to McConaghy to prove his innocence once an allegation is made, in essence saying he is guilty until proven innocent.

The Diocese of Rockville Centre, N.Y., where the accusation surfaced, alerted the Suffolk County district attorney to the allegation. Calls from that office were not returned.

It is unclear whether any charges could be pressed against McConaghy. It is possible that the statute of limitations has expired and McConaghy could not be tried.

Gerardo Sorkin, director of behavioral health outpatient services at United Community and Family Services, said McConaghy’s removal could trigger a number of emotions in parishioners, including disappointment, anxiety, fear and confusion.

Their trust has been broken, he said.

"They should use their natural support systems," talking to family friends, other church leaders and, if necessary, seek out further counseling,

Depending on the person, the news could evoke memories of past traumas, he said.

Bosse said the Parish Council is trying to put together support groups and sessions where parishioners can talk to each other about their feelings regarding McConaghy.

"We’re all pulling together as a parish family," he said. "We have a very strong faith and we believe in that faith and that will carry us through."


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