Ex-altar Boys Testify against Former Priest

By Conor Berry
Berkshire Eagle
February 5, 2011

Editor's note: During the Gary Mercure rape trial, coverage may include the reporting of graphic testimony.

PITTSFIELD -- A former altar boy hid his sullied underwear inside a wall at his Queensbury, N.Y., home after being raped by his local parish priest, according to testimony in the trial of Gary Mercure, a former Catholic priest accused of sexual assault in the Berkshires.

The boy's mother said the underpants were discovered in 1991 during a home renovation. The mother said she saved the underwear in a plastic bag, which she later gave to authorities.

She thought they were "rags" at first, but quickly realized otherwise.

"They were my son's underwear. They were bloody all over. My baby was hurt bad," she said, breaking down on the stand while testifying Friday in Berkshire Superior Court.

She said she found them when her son was 16, but waited a couple of years before confronting him.

"I said, ‘You know, [son], sometimes bad things happen to little kids and it's not your fault.'"

Mercure, 62, of Troy, N.Y., is charged with raping two New York altar boys in the Berkshires in the 1980s. The alleged victims, both from New York and now in their 30s, claim Mercure assaulted them during separate outings in the Great Barrington area and New Ashford in 1986 and 1989.

The priest, who was permanently removed from ministry by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany in 2008, is free on personal recognizance after denying three counts of forcible child rape and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child younger than 14.

Several former altar boys, also from New York, testified against Mercure, including the pair who claim they were assaulted in Berkshire County.

The former altar boys, who now range in age from 34 to 38, met Mercure at Our Lady of Annunciation in Queensbury, N.Y., where Mercure was a priest. The men stated under oath Friday that Mercure abused them numerous times in the 1980s in New York.

The Berkshire Superior Court trial pertains only to the alleged Massachusetts crimes, although much of the graphic testimony has centered on alleged New York crimes. Judge John A. Agostini reminded jurors that the out-of-state evidence could not be used when weighing Mercure's guilt or innocence in Massachusetts.

The prosecution -- Berkshire First Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello and Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey -- questioned the former altar boys about their relationships with the priest.

Through repeated questioning, the prosecutors established that the men were raised in families with strong ties to the Catholic Church. Mercure was very friendly with the families, regularly joining some for dinner and others for special events and celebrations. In one instance, Mercure even joined a family on its vacation to South Carolina, according to testimony.

The defense -- attorneys Michael O. Jennings and Robert DeLong -- questioned the former altar boys about when and why they decided to come forward with the abuse allegations.

No conclusions were drawn, but Jennings ostensibly was seeking to learn whether they were encouraged to go public with their claims after learning that New York authorities could not prosecute Mercure due to the vintage of the allegations.

Jennings attempted to highlight the former altar boys' ties to, or knowledge of, an upstate New York chapter of a national support group for victims of clergy abuse. The attorney asked if they had been following the Mercure case in the media, and specifically wanted to know whether they were aware of a 2008 press conference detailing the allegations against Mercure.

Jennings also inquired about their knowledge of the statutes of limitations in New York and Massachusetts for prosecuting old crimes, and whether the former altar boys had pursued civil action against Mercure or the diocese. Those who testified said they had not filed lawsuits, with most acknowledging that it was too late to take legal action.

Despite Jennings' relentless questions about the timeline in which the alleged abuse was reported, and the mixed responses from the former altar boys, one alleged victim suggested the attorney's queries were inconsequential.

"It was time to do something," the 38-year-old man from Glens Falls, N.Y., said bluntly.

The man claimed Mercure engaged in oral sex with him "hundreds if not thousands of times" after initially fondling him in 1984, and even molested him during a family trip to South Carolina. The man said he shared a motel room with his younger brother and the priest, while his parents stayed in another room.

The man claimed the abuse lasted until he was around 14, when he "made [himself] less available" to Mercure. The man said he wanted to report the allegations at least twice before 2008 -- the year Mercure was removed from ministry and criminally charged in Massachusetts -- but ultimately decided not to hurt his parents, who considered Mercure to be a close family friend.

Jennings said none of the evidence presented in the trial contains any trace of Mercure's DNA, including the bloodied underwear.

Friday marked the first full day of testimony in the trial, which began last Monday but was interrupted mid-week by extreme winter weather. Testimony could conclude this Monday with closing arguments scheduled for Wednesday, Agostini said.

To reach Conor Berry: or (413) 496-6249.


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