Retired Priest Accused of Sexual Abuse in 1979

By Rebecca Hyman
Wicked Local
March 20, 2008

TAUNTON - A retired Taunton priest has been removed from the ministry following an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the late 1970s.

The alleged incident took place in a private residence on Cape Cod, not in Taunton, as was widely reported, said John Kearns, a spokesman for the Catholic Diocese of Fall River.

The Rev. Bento Fraga, who was pastor at St. Paul's on Tremont Street from 1992 until his retirement in 2005, has denied the allegation, but the Diocese's Review Board determined it was "credible" following a full investigation, Kearns said.

Since his retirement, Fraga, 78, has resided at St. Anthony Parish on School Street, where he has frequently assisted since 2005, Kearns said.

As a result of the Review Board's finding, Fraga will no longer be allowed to live at the parish or at the priests' retirement facility.

The allegation was made in January, Kearns said.

There have been no other allegations against Fraga, who is a Taunton native, Kearns said.

The alleged victim was a minor in 1979, when the alleged incident took place. Kearns declined to specify the age or gender of the alleged victim. At the time, Fraga was the pastor at Holy Ghost Parish in Attleboro.

The Barnstable County District Attorney's Office is investigating the accusation, First District Attorney for the Cape and Islands Brian Glenny said.

Glenny declined to comment on the specifics of the Fraga case.

But, he said, in general, one key factor with older incidents is whether the statute of limitations has expired.

The statute of limitations has been lengthened several times for some child sex crimes in Massachusetts, Kearns said.

But the longer times cannot be applied retroactively, he said.

If the statute of limitations had already expired in this case or any other at the time the law was changed, that would not extend the time available to prosecute, Kearns said.

For example, in the case of rape of a child, the statute has gone from six years, to 10 years, to 15 years and now 23 years, Kearns said.

In the case of indecent assault and battery, on the other hand, it has always been and remains six years.

Another key question is when the clock starts ticking.

It used to begin at the time of the offense.

But now it begins when the victim turns 16 or when the incident is reported to police, whichever comes first, Kearns said.

Kearns said the lengthening of the statute of limitations in child sex abuse cases reflects the special status of these crimes.

A child may be unaware the conduct is abusive; a child may be afraid of the perpetrator; and a child may be confused about the effect of reporting an incident on his family if the abuser is a relative, as is often the case, Kearns said.

A letter from Bishop George W. Coleman explaining Fraga's removal from the ministry was distributed at Masses over the weekend of March 16 at all the parishes where he was assigned since his ordination in 1956, Kearns said.

Counselors from Catholic Social Services were present at Masses at the two parishes in Taunton where Fraga most recently served, St. Anthony's and St. Paul's.

Coleman said he is "deeply troubled by this matter and understands how devastating the announcement of it is to parishioners of the parishes where Father Fraga served as well as to his family and friends. To all of these, the bishop offers his assurance of prayers and asks in return that they remember in theirs Father Fraga and the person bringing forth the accusation," Kearns said.

The Fall River Diocese is urging anyone with information which might be of help in the case to contact either Arlene McNamee of the Office of Child Protection of Catholic Social Services at (508) 674-4681, the Barnstable County District Attorney's Office at (508) 362-81210 or the Bristol County District Attorney's Office at (508) 997-0711.


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