I-Team: Alleged Victims of Abuse Call for Investigation of Diocese

By Katie Davis
The NBC 10
November 21, 2013

[with video]


Alleged victims who said they were sexually abused by priests in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence demanded Wednesday for a full investigation by the attorney general's office and the U.S. Attorney.

In a recent investigation, the NBC 10 I-Team obtained through a records request 88 pages detailing sexual abuse by priests going back more than 30 years.

In each case, a letter detailing allegations of sexual abuse was sent to the Rhode Island State Police by the diocese.

The diocese began the practice around 2003, although there's no legal mandate requiring the letters. A total of 45 letters were sent to state police between 2003 and 2013.

The documents which were stamped "confidential" were heavily redacted by state police.

The names of priests were blacked out, even those people who are already dead. Dates and locations were blacked out. The names of the churches were blacked out too.

"This has to change if we're going to help children," said Ann Hagan Webb, who joined other victims at a news conference at the Renaissance Hotel in Providence.

Webb said she was sexually abused by a West Warwick priest in the 1950s and '60s, from age 5 to age 12.

"Reading these documents I went into a couple of days of PTSD symptoms that I thought I had put to rest years ago," she said.

Jeff Thomas first reported his abuse to the Diocese of Providence in 2008.

But when he read the letters uncovered by the NBC 10 I-Team, he couldn't find any record of his case being sent to state police.

"We need to fix this, and we need to fix it real quick. They're not getting it done here. Not even close. We need justice," Thomas said.

Thomas says he was abused in the 1960's at Our Lady of Mercy in East Greenwich by a notorious pedophile.

The Most Rev. Brendan Smyth died in prison in Ireland in 1997, convicted on more than 140 counts of child sexual abuse. He worked in East Greenwich as a priest, coach and scout leader.

"I didn't see any reference to the fact that I had come forward in 2006," said Helen McGonigle.

McGonigle was Thomas' next door neighbor, and another victim of Smyth who said her case is missing from the reports.

"It's puzzling to me that we were excluded from this list," she said.

Bishop Thomas Tobin declined the I-Team's request for an interview, but a spokeswoman said in a statement, "It has been a consistent policy and practice of the Diocese of Providence to report many different issues including those of clergy sex abuse of minors to law enforcement."

Another question that was raised Wednesday was what happened to accused priests who are still alive.

"The red flags that remain in these letters are sufficient to cause great concern that children are at risk in this diocese," said Anne Barrett Doyle of the watchdog group Bishop Accountability.

Barrett Doyle said she believes some of the priests described in the letters may still be working in local churches, based on details that weren't blacked out by state police.

But the diocese said in its statement that's not the case.

"The diocese is not aware of any priests currently in ministry, who have credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors against them," the statement said.

The attorney general's office told the I-Team it will accept and review any information the victims have about priest abuse cases.

The victims hope to meet with state and federal investigators soon.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.