Abusive Priest's Files Detail Pattern of Rape
By Brendan J. Lyons
The Albany Times Union
October 14, 2013
|John Watkins of Glens Falls had an affair with priest Gary Mercure in the 1990s. Watkins, pictured here in a photo that Mercure took during their affair, said he told church officials Mercure was attracted to his youthful looks and showed a sexual interest in young boys.|
The once-secret personnel files of Gary Mercure, an Albany priest imprisoned for raping and sexually abusing altar boys, have been opened in a federal court as part of a lawsuit filed by one of his many victims.
The records reveal that Mercure systematically stole money from church coffers and used it to lavish young men and boys with cash, gifts and living expenses as he brazenly maintained a sexually active, homosexual lifestyle for decades. They also show how Mercure used his priesthood to gain the trust of parents whose sons he raped or abused, including on their family vacations and in their homes when he knew the parents were away.
Mercure's sexual abuse of young boys while working as a priest in Albany, Queensbury and Glens Falls is outlined in often-disturbing detail in the internal records, which show his abuse of young boys began as early as the late 1970s, not long after Mercure was ordained as a priest for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.
Although heavily redacted by the diocese's attorneys, the records portray Mercure as a rogue priest who eluded criminal prosecution and was returned to ministry — with no restrictions regarding his contact with children — even after the diocese sent him away for therapy when it was revealed he had a sexual affair with a young man in the early 1990s.
The records indicate Mercure's abuse of young boys began at St. Teresa of Avila in Albany, where a former church receptionist told the diocese that when she worked there, as a teenager, Mercure escorted a "constant procession" of young boys to his second-floor bedroom and kept them behind closed doors for hours. The abused included her younger brother.
The documents also raise questions about the response when the young man who carried on an affair with Mercure warned church officials in the mid-1990s, and again in 2003, that Mercure was sexually attracted to boys.
Mercure, 65, is serving up to 25 years in a Massachusetts prison for raping two altar boys from Warren County that he drove across state lines on ski trips. He lost an appeal of his 2011 conviction, but the diocese's records say Mercure continues to receive his retirement benefits and also money to pay for a canon lawyer assisting him in his fight to remain a priest.
Warren County District Attorney Kathleen B. Hogan, whose office launched the criminal investigation that led to Mercure's conviction, said it's "repulsive" that Mercure is still receiving money from the diocese.
"It is akin to our elected officials receiving a pension after being convicted of fraud," Hogan said. "It is wrong and needs to stop."
In 2008, when Bishop Howard J. Hubbard sought to confront Mercure about overwhelming evidence that he had sexually abused minors, the priest responded that he was on vacation and could not be reached by telephone.
But Hubbard, in an internal document, had his staff trace the phone number. They learned Mercure was secretly vacationing at a gay resort "where the choice to wear something or nothing is yours ... (with) erotic video lounge showing adult male videos." The document, attributed to Hubbard, summarized the bishop's decision for removing Mercure from ministry in 2008, including mounting allegations he had raped boys.
"Clearly the evidence shows that Gary Mercure continued to be living an active gay lifestyle, contrary to his promise of celibacy and contrary to the commitment made after treatment several years earlier," Hubbard wrote. "He had not mended his ways."
John Watkins, who had a sexual affair with Mercure from 1992 until December 1994, said he told the diocese right after their breakup, and again in 2003, that the much-older priest had an interest in young boys and should not be around children.
Watkins said Mercure preyed on him because Watkins was emotionally vulnerable and had been sexually abused as a child. He also told the diocese that Mercure made him shave his genitals, perhaps to give him a "youthful look." Mercure stole money from parishioners' offerings at St. Mary's in Glens Falls, Watkins told them, and used the cash to pay for Watkins' rent and other living expenses. The priest also bankrolled their secret trips to Provincetown, Mass., Watkins said.
A 2003 internal report from Mercure's personnel file confirms Watkins warned the diocese about a troubling encounter in which Mercure had driven him to a Glens Falls school and made sexual comments about the boys outside. Watkins said he believes Mercure wanted them to have sex as they looked on, but he demanded the priest drive away.
"He feels that Fr. M. should not be in a position where he can interact on a one-on-one basis with kids," states a report by Theresa Rodriguez, a victim coordinator for the diocese. "He said that Fr. M. was attracted to him because he appears much younger than his age and in 1992 looked very adolescent."
After Watkins first came forward in 1994, Hubbard sent Mercure to a church-run treatment center near Philadelphia, St. John Vianney, where priests who are pedophiles or have broken their vows of celibacy underwent inpatient therapy. Mercure later returned to ministry despite Watkins' account of the school incident.
Hogan, whose office in 2008 received a referral from the diocese about Mercure's sexual abuse of a child, said the diocese should have responded with more urgency to Watkins' concerns 13 years earlier.
"The church should have prevented his access to children, not assign him to a parish with a school," Hogan said.
Kenneth Goldfarb, a spokesman for the diocese, said they took the appropriate action based on the information received.
"Regrettably, the Albany diocese did not have information in the 1990s to take action against Gary Mercure for sexually abusing minors," he said. "Had the diocese possessed such information, we would have taken immediate steps to protect children. The diocese did not receive a complaint against Mercure alleging sexual abuse of a minor until 2008, and the diocese immediately referred the matter to law enforcement."
Still, the school grounds incident that Watkins described mirrored an earlier incident involving one of Mercure's young victims. The victim, who was 10 when Mercure began sexually abusing him, said the priest performed oral sex on him while parked in Mercure's car near a Queensbury school in the 1980s.
"Mercure would talk about other boys of the team practicing," the victim recounted in a 2009 statement to the diocese and also to police. "He would talk about their penis size and the hair on their bodies while he masturbated himself and had oral sex with (me)."
Only 88 pages of Mercure's personnel file, which is more than 550 pages, were filed in the Vermont case. None of the records contain information indicating the diocese received a direct complaint accusing Mercure of pedophilia until 2008.
But the family of two men who were abused by Mercure as young boys in Warren County has claimed there was a complaint. The mother of the boys insists she told the diocese's priest-personnel director in 1999, within the New York statute of limitations, that Mercure had tried to jam his tongue in her son's mouth when he was a boy.
The woman contends the church never followed up; but the diocese disputes the account and said she and her son never followed through with a formal complaint.
The release of Mercure's personnel files in the Vermont case are at the center of an ongoing legal dispute between the diocese and Jerome F. O'Neill, the Burlington attorney for the victim in the case.
O'Neill has asked a judge to order the diocese to release unredacted files on Mercure, and also to turn over its internal records on all priests accused of abuse.
Lawyers for the diocese are fighting the request, saying it is "overly broad" and that only Mercure's files should be released, and with the names of victims redacted. They also have asked for a protective order that would bar O'Neill from making the records public, which he has opposed.