Ex-Priest Won't Attend Upcoming Abuse Trial

By Sam Hemingway
Burlington Free Press [Vermont]
June 15, 2007

A former priest accused of molesting a teenage boy in New York and Vermont in 1977 will not appear at an upcoming trial in a case brought by the alleged victim against the state's Roman Catholic diocese.

Alfred Willis, who lives in Leesburg, Va., said in a Monday letter to diocesan attorney David Cleary that the allegations against him are untrue but he cannot afford the cost of traveling to Vermont for the trial. The trial is scheduled to begin Wednesday.

"The claims against me are extremely upsetting and ... to the best of my memory, unfounded," Willis said in the letter on file at Chittenden Superior Court.

"I have lived the past 30 years as a model heterosexual, committed to a long-term relationship, dedicated to family and community, active in church life and the proud sponsor of many exchange-student programs," he wrote.

According to the victim in the case, Willis performed a sex act on him at a Latham, N.Y., motel in 1977 when Willis was a church deacon. Willis then allegedly attempted to molest the youth again at the boy's home in Derby later that year, according to the victim. The Burlington Free Press does not publish the names of alleged victims of sex crimes without their permission.

Willis has been accused of molesting altar boys in Burlington, Milton and Montpelier during the late 1970s. In 1980, he was suspended from performing priestly duties after parents of altar boys in Milton complained to then Bishop John Marshall about Willis' behavior with their sons.

Willis underwent an internal church investigation and later left the clergy. In 2004, the diocese paid $170,000 to settle a lawsuit brought by a former Milton altar boy; two other pending lawsuits claim he molested boys in Milton and Montpelier.

Willis, in his letter, said publicity in Vermont about the allegations against him has affected his life in his hometown in northern Virginia and caused him to lose jobs several times.

"We are the target of harassing calls (and) anonymous blanket distribution of newspaper reprints throughout neighborhood mailboxes," he wrote.

Willis is not a named defendant in the lawsuit, but his conduct is central to the victim's claim that the diocese ignored warnings that priests such as Willis were molesting children.

Judge Ben Joseph has told lawyers in the case he prefers to have live testimony from witnesses but is expected to let lawyers rely on evidence taken from sworn depositions in instances where witnesses are not available to testify in person.

A deposition is a pre-trial inquiry in which answers are given under oath to questions posed by lawyers representing parties in the case.

In a deposition conducted in connection with a related case in 2006, Willis denied engaging in any sex acts with the victim.

In another part of the deposition, however, he acknowledged fondling a Montpelier-area boy in 1978.

Sam Hemingway at 660-1850:


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