Ex-Oneonta Priest Charged with Child Porn

By Jake Palmateer
The Daily Star
June 4, 2007

Oneonta _ A Catholic priest from Columbia County charged last week with possessing child pornography was an associate pastor at St. Mary's Church in Oneonta for five years in the 1990s.

Raymond Ethier, 50, of Hudson, was charged Tuesday with possessing child pornography downloaded from a popular Internet file-sharing program, a felony under federal law punishable by a mandatory minimum sentence of 5 years and maximum sentence of 20 years in prison, as well as up to a $250,000 fine.

There is no indication Ethier was involved in molestation of children since he became a priest, said officials with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

"There had never been any complaints or concerns to our knowledge," Kenneth Goldfarb, director of communications for the diocese, said Sunday night.

Ethier, who was ordained in 1985, was an associate pastor at St. Mary's from 1990 to 1995, Goldfarb said.

At the time of his arrest, he was pastor at St. John Vianney in Philmont.

Ethier's arrest followed an investigation by Immigration and Customs Enforcement of the Department of Homeland Security.

An ICE agent reviewed a record of an online chat conversation May 15, 2006, between someone in Canada and someone using the screen name "nudistdude23," who claimed he was sexually abusing his 12-year-old stepdaughter and 14-year-old stepson.

Investigators eventually found "nudistdude23" was a screen name associated with a Yahoo! account held by Ethier, according to a felony complaint on file in federal court.

On May 10, 2007, Ethier admitted to investigators he engaged in sexually explicit conversations online that sometimes featured children, but said the conversations were "merely fantasy" and never involved actual children, according to the felony complaint.

Ethier turned his computer over to investigators, who then found explicit videos featuring boys between the ages of 9 and 16, according to the complaint.

When questioned, Ethier admitted he used the file-sharing program Limewire to download two videos of children having sex, the complaint states.

The child-pornography charge was lodged because of the video and not the Internet conversation that sparked the investigation.

Jo-Ann LaMonica, who is on the pastoral council of St. Mary's Church and the board of St. Mary's School, said she is a friend of Ethier and said he is a "good man."

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"He was a friend. He is a friend. And he will always be a friend," LaMonica said. "The whole situation is sad, and we hope and pray he will be healed."

She said Ethier is seeking treatment at a rehabilitation clinic in Maryland while the case against him proceeds.

"We are praying for Father Ethier," said St. Mary's current pastor, the Rev. Joseph Benintende.

Bishop Howard Hubbard placed Ethier, who was released on $25,000 bond after his arrest Tuesday, on administrative leave. He is not permitted to function as a priest, perform sacraments or wear clerical garb.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Randolph Treece ordered Ethier to turn in his passport, refrain from using the Internet or having contact with children and be electronically monitored.

"The allegations against Father Ethier are very serious and very troubling," Hubbard said in a media release. "The Diocese will await the final decision of a court as to their validity. A determination as to Father Ethier's status as a priest will be made once the judicial process has concluded. The Diocese pledges its full cooperation to authorities investigating these allegations."


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