Pope Laicizes Former Putnam Parish Priest

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Worcester Telegram & Gazette [Connecticut]
March 7, 2006

Gene Michael Deary could not be happier these days after learning the priest who allegedly sexually abused his brother, since deceased, in the 1960s finally has been defrocked.

Bishop Michael R. Cote of the Norwich diocese confirmed yesterday Pope Benedict XVI has laicized Bernard W. Bissonette, who is no longer a priest.

Bishop Cote recently notified Mr. Deary the Vatican had officially laicized — essentially defrocked — the former priest. This means the diocese will no longer support him and he can no longer call himself a priest.

The alleged abuse of Thomas Deary happened when Rev. Bissonette was assigned to St. Mary's parish in Putnam, Conn., in the early 1960s.

Mr. Deary was surprised to learn Bishop Cote personally made the presentation to the Vatican on why Rev. Bissonette should be defrocked.

Mr. Deary, who lives in Brooklyn and has business offices in Vernon and in Northboro, Mass., said Bishop Cote followed through on what he said he would do. This has brought some closure to the Deary family, he said. Thomas Deary suffered a tortured life and committed suicide in 1991 at age 44.

Mr. Deary in April 2002 called for the resignation of Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, then bishop in Worcester and former bishop in Norwich, and Bishop Daniel Hart, then Norwich bishop, for failing to seek laicization of Rev. Bissonette. Mr. Deary discovered after his brother's death that Rev. Bissonette allegedly abused a number of children when he was assigned to parishes in the Putnam area and he had been transferred 17 times.

He said he was informed by Bishop Reilly, who had not been bishop in Norwich when the alleged abuses occurred, that Rev. Bissonette was no longer a priest.

Mr. Deary said he later discovered Rev. Bissonette had not been laicized, which would officially remove him from the clerical state. Rev. Bissonette was last known to be living in New Mexico.

"The decision to try and 'do something' about Bissonette was not easy and could have met with a great deal of resistance, but it did not and it was the collective strength of us all that allowed for some finality in whatever form that is for each of us," Mr. Deary said.

Mr. Deary and his brother, John, met personally recently with Bishop Cote and Mr. Deary received a letter from Bishop Cote Jan. 30 saying Rev. Bissonette was laicized May 20 by Pope Benedict XVI. "While it may seem small in retrospect, I hope that this action by the Holy See will help bring some small measure of peace both to you and to your family," Bishop Cote said in the letter to Mr. Deary.

He said the bishop and the canon lawyers assigned to put together the presentation from the files they had "did a fantastic job." The bishop, although he initially had not intended to go to Rome, personally presented the case to the Vatican, he said.

"There were two obstacles to overcome at this point," Mr. Deary said. The bishop told him the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People adopted by the American bishops in Dallas in 2002 "clearly protected elderly priests and prevented them from being laicized." The second problem was "if this case rose to the level of requesting an exception to that charter then the Pope had to agree."

The Vatican congregation responsible for reviewing the situation was convinced Rev. Bissonette should be defrocked and the pope agreed to it, he said.

Mr. Deary said he was told the former priest was notified of his laicization by certified mail. He said Bishop Cote has also notified all parishes where the former priest served.


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