Flock Rallies to Support Pastor

By Donna Kenny Kirwan
Pawtucket Times
August 25, 2009

PAWTUCKET — Holding signs that read "We Support Father Fisette" and "Innocent Until Proven Guilty," about 100 parishioners from St. Leo the Great Church held a rally Monday afternoon to voice their displeasure at the Diocese of Providence for allowing their pastor to resign.

Father Kevin R. Fisette, pastor of St. Leo the Great since 2004, stunned parishioners at Sunday's noontime Mass by saying that he had "been accused" of an incident and that he had to leave as their pastor.

On Monday morning, the Diocese of Providence issued a press release saying that Father Fisette had resigned due to a "credible allegation" of abuse of a minor that had been alleged to have occurred over 20 years ago.

The diocese noted, however, that according to Father Fisette, no criminal charges had been filed, and the Attorney General's Office confirmed this, although an investigation is said to be ongoing.

Outside of the brick church on Central Avenue, prior to the start of the 5:15 p.m. daily Mass, parishioners young and old alike held signs to show their support for their former pastor.

Many who spoke to the news media also expressed anger and outrage at the way the diocese and its leader, the Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, handled the matter involving Father Fisette.

William Lyons, a member of the Knights of Columbus, said that the rally came about after Fr. Fisette delivered his shocking news to the congregation on Sunday. "People cried when he told us," said Lyons. "Everyone just started calling everyone else." He, like the rest of those holding signs, spoke of his respect and fondness for the pastor, and suggested that the Diocese had rushed to judgment with the call for his resignation. "It is supposed to be 'innocent until proven guilty'. I don't like the way the diocese chose to handle this," he stated.

Bruce Guindon, who described himself as a longtime parishioner and an active member of the church's steering committee, said he found it "disturbing that people can make these accusations." He added, "I have known Fr. Fisette for many years, and he never displayed this type of behavior."

Guindon pointed out that there had been an investigation by the State Police and Attorney General's Office and that no charges were filed. That being said, he felt that Fisette should not have had to resign.

Roger Balthazard, who said he had been a parishioner of St. Leo's for 51 years, also voiced his support for Fr. Bisette as well as his displeasure in the Diocese's handling of the matter. "Most of the people here are upset at the way it was done. The Diocese found him guilty before they even had an investigation," he stated.

A woman named Cindy, who asked that her last name not be used, said she had taught religion classes at St. Leo the Great for many years, and had the utmost respect for Fr. Fisette. "As a parishioner, you couldn't ask for a better person," she stated. She added, "The Diocese was too quick to judge. There is no proof."

Peggy Levesque, a Eucharistic minister at St. Leo's, said she considers Fr. Fisette to be a caring man who had always tried to bring out the best in his parishioners. "He makes me feel like a better person," she said. She, too, expressed anger at the diocese, and in particular, Bishop Tobin, who had said in his press statement that he would be coming to St. Leo's soon to say a Mass. "If the Bishop shows up, we will not attend," she stated, gesturing to the group gathered. "We will get up and walk out."

Melissa Almeida arrived at the rally clutching a stack of printed notices asking people write a letter to Bishop Tobin in support of Fr. Fisette. She said that parishioners had been told by the diocese that they could not conduct a letter-writing campaign through the church itself, but said she had printed up the letters on her own time and at her own expense. "They can't stop me this way," she said. She added that Fr. Fisette "is the reason I came back to church."

Gregory Fisher and Patrick Lanoie, both altar servers, also expressed their sadness at Fr. Fisette's departure and his resulting resignation. "I've known him for five years. I served his first Mass," noted Fisher. Both young men stated that they found the accusations difficult to believe.

When asked about the rally later on Monday night, Michael Guilfoyle, director of communications for the Diocese, said only that the Bishop had acted "in full compliance" with the charter regarding such allegations of misconduct. He noted that the Bishop was, in effect, caught in the middle, noting that while St. Leo's parishioners were voicing their displeasure about his removal of Fr. Fisette, the organization know as S.N.A.P. (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) had "attacked him (in the media) for waiting too long" to take such an action.


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