Church Defends Two Deceased Bishops Named in Sex Abuse Suit

The Associated Press, carried in Telegram & Gazette [Springfield MA]
March 31, 2005

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. Two Roman Catholic bishops are among seven deceased priests named in a clergy sexual abuse lawsuit filed by a Texas man serving a 50-year prison sentence for murder.

Church officials said they have found nothing in their records to support the allegations, and defended the late bishops and priests.

William E. Burnett, 64, claimed in the suit, filed Tuesday in Hampden Superior Court, that he was abused in the 1950s by several priests, including former Springfield Bishop Christopher Weldon, former Worcester Bishop Timothy Harrington and former Monsignor Raymond J. Page.

Burnett, a Springfield native, who currently is serving a 50-year prison sentence for the 1990 murder of a Texas businessman, claimed in the suit that he was introduced to the other clergy by Page, who was his uncle.

His lawyer, Carmine Durso of Boston, said his client had passed two lie detector tests.

However, church officials questioned Burnett's motives and credibility.

"The Diocese of Worcester was made aware of the allegations ... several years ago and had investigated the claims with members of (Burnett's) family and by a thorough examination of diocesan records," Worcester Bishop Robert J. McManus said in a prepared statement. "The Diocese of Worcester found no basis of credibility to the claims."

McManus also called it "profoundly troubling that this suit is attempting to malign the reputations of (men) who had dedicated themselves to serve the people of the Worcester Diocese and, now deceased, cannot defend themselves," and "an injustice to victims who seek to have their credible stories of abuse heard."

Springfield Bishop Timothy A. McDonnell said that there is "nothing in our records that in any way would provide support for these allegations."

"I would hope that the names of good priests and bishops, who cannot defend themselves, are not being impugned for ulterior motives," he added.

Weldon, who died in 1982, served as bishop of the Springfield diocese for 27 years, beginning in 1950.

Harrington, a Holyoke native who died in 1997, was named auxiliary bishop of Worcester diocese in 1968, and headed the diocese from 1983 until 1994.

The other priests named in the suit are: Bernard L. Doheny, who died in 1965; George A. Berthiaume, who died in 1985 [12/3/85]; James T. Walsh, who died in 1970; Oscar Gatineau, who died in 1964, and Page, who died in 1998.

All served in either the Springfield or the Worcester diocese, which was split from the Springfield diocese in 1950.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.