Rev. Coonan Charged with Domestic Assaults

By Gerard F. Russell
Telegram & Gazette
March 2, 2006

DUDLEY— The pastor of St. John's Church in Worcester, who was placed on administrative leave in 2002, was arrested Tuesday and arraigned yesterday on charges that he assaulted his mother and sister at their Oxford home.

The Rev. Joseph A. Coonan, 58, is charged with domestic assault and battery, assault and battery on a person over 65 years of age, and one count of intimidating a witness. A not guilty plea was entered on his behalf in the arraignment before Judge Neil G. Snider in Dudley District Court. He was released on bail of $250 and personal recognizance. The case was continued to April 4 for a pretrial conference.

Rev. Coonan was removed from ministry at St. John's Church on Temple Street in August 2002 by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, head of the Worcester Diocese at the time, after allegations of sexual misconduct from the 1970s surfaced. Before his removal, 15 men from Oxford told state police that Rev. Coonan did inappropriate things with them when he was a teacher and counselor in Oxford, before he entered the seminary.

He was a teacher at Oxford High School for eight years.

In 2003, the diocese asked Rev. Coonan to resign as pastor. At the time, a spokesman for Rev. Coonan said the priest had hired a canon lawyer and planned to fight his removal "on canonical grounds."

According to an Oxford police report filed with the Dudley District Court clerk's office, Rev. Coonan had been drinking at the time of the latest incident in an apartment he shared with his mother and sister at 3 Hope Ave.

Police received a 911 call from Rev. Coonan's mother, Mabel G. Coonan, 77, who told a dispatcher, "I'm having a problem with my son." The mother ended the call, but police called the number back and another female answered the phone and said, "I can't really talk right now."

The woman then whispered into the phone, but police could not understand what she was saying. The dispatcher instructed the woman to press a key on the telephone pad if she needed the police to come to the apartment. The caller pressed a key and police responded, and also sent an ambulance as a precaution; however, it was not needed.

When police entered the home, Rev. Coonan was standing in the doorway of a bedroom.

Mrs. Coonan told police that her son "had engaged in an argument with her and her daughter, Patricia Loiselle."

The police report did not indicate what the argument was about. A police spokesman yesterday said he did not know the nature of the argument.

In the police report filed by Oxford Patrolman Christopher D. Hadis, Mrs. Coonan said "that Joseph assaulted her by placing his hand around her throat in a choking motion."

Mrs. Coonan showed no visible signs of injury, police said.

"Mrs. Coonan stated that this has been an ongoing problem. She stated that (it) escalates when Joseph consumes alcohol," the report said.

The report said Rev. Coonan had been drinking beer that night.

Police spoke to Rev. Coonan, and he told them that "this was just an ongoing family problem and that no physical violence had occurred." He told police that "a verbal argument had occurred."

Patricia A. Loiselle told police the argument between mother and son started in the kitchen. She was in the living room recovering from recent surgery. She told police she did not see any physical violence between her brother and mother, but then her brother "involved her in the argument."

According to Ms. Loiselle's statement to police, her brother "became so enraged that (he) grabbed hold of her hair and pulled." She got a cordless telephone and threatened to call the police and Rev. Coonan "forcefully removed the phone from her hand." He then took the battery out of the phone so it would not work.

After police arrested Rev. Coonan and brought him to the police station for booking, he was released on personal recognizance and $250 bail.

Police said both the priest's mother and sister were hesitant about completing victim statements for police. Also, police said both women did not seek assistance in obtaining a court order to prohibit Rev. Coonan from contacting them. After his release, police advised him that it was in his best interest not to return to the apartment. Police said Rev. Coonan agreed and that he "had no intention of returning."

Raymond L. Delisle, a spokesman for the Worcester Roman Catholic Diocese, said yesterday that Rev. Coonan remains on administrative leave and has not resigned his pastorship. Mr. Delisle added that Rev. Coonan has no public ministry.

Mr. Delisle said he was not aware of the status of Rev. Coonan's opposition to being placed on leave. That process takes place in Rome, Mr. Delisle noted.

The removal of Rev. Coonan, who was ordained a priest at age 43, sparked considerable vocal opposition from some parishioners, many of whom urged the diocese to reinstate him.

Gerard F. Russell of the Telegram & Gazette staff can be reached by e-mail at


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