Editorial: Sorting through the Fraga Case

The Sun Chronicle
March 21, 2008

Regarding charges of sexual misconduct against a minor by a former Attleboro priest, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River acted with a commendable degree of transparency.

It was just two months ago, in January, that a man brought allegations to the diocese that the Rev. Bento Fraga, then pastor of Holy Ghost Parish, had abused him in 1979 at a location that has not been disclosed, other than that it was in the Cape Cod and the Islands region.

Acting with a speed that a civilian court could not match, a tribunal issued its findings last week that the allegations are credible, despite Fraga's denial.

If there is any doubt that the diocese has taken anything but a "let the chips fall where they may" posture on dealing with accusations of abuse by the clergy, it was erased when those findings were announced on Palm Sunday, the start of Holy Week for the Catholic Church. That's a date no spin doctor in the secular world would have chosen.

As far as it has gone, we are impressed with the process. It leaves us with no doubt that the diocese has learned the lessons from the clergy abuse scandals that were set in motion more than a decade ago by allegations that James Porter abused dozens of children while serving as a priest in this diocese. The days of covering up and moving around wayward priests are surely dead.

The result, however, has set off a firestorm among past and present members of Holy Ghost, where Fraga - who went on to become a monsignor - is well-remembered for magnifying the parish's pride in itself during his service there in the 1970s.

Former altar boys have spoken up in defense of the priest they called "padre" and at least one has registered utter disbelief in the charges.

Others have expressed pity for Fraga, now retired after more than a half a century in the priesthood, who has been stripped of his priestly authority and banned from living in a facility for retired priests.

And it has not gone unnoticed that, unlike most previous cases of clergy abuse, there is but a single charge against Fraga, one that dates 29 years.

The bottom line: Despite the transparency of the diocesan procedures, the air is less than clear regarding the charge against Fraga.

If there is hope for further clarification, it is dependent on the alleged victim. Whether the Cape and Islands district attorney delves into the matter is also contingent on whether he is willing to pursue criminal charges and whether the statute of limitations applies.

While further investigation is awaited, the advice given by Bishop George Coleman in his letter announcing the findings appears particularly appropriate:

Pray for everyone involved.


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