Watchdog Team: Goodwill fires man on list of accused priests

By Brian Amaral
Providence Journal
July 27, 2019

[with audio]

A man whose name appeared on the Diocese of Providence’s list of priests “credibly accused” of child sexual abuse was fired this month from his job at Goodwill, his friends and family said.

Kevin R. Fisette, 64, was director of donated goods and volunteer coordinator for the nonprofit organization, according to Richard Borer, president of Goodwill of Southern New England.

Borer declined to discuss the circumstances of Fisette’s departure, which was effective July 16. Borer also would not confirm Fisette’s own account, posted on his Facebook page, that the organization had fired him because his name was on the diocese’s list.

Fisette’s friends and family have rallied to support him. His sister, in a letter to The Providence Journal before he lost his job at Goodwill, said that in 2017, “it was concluded that my brother did not commit the allegation made against him.” Margaret Fisette Wharton did not cite who had cleared him, or in what way.

“Don’t priests deserve basic justice, too?” she wrote.

Wharton declined to elaborate on her letter when reached by a Providence Journal reporter Wednesday, saying her brother had asked her not to speak to The Journal. The diocese declined to comment on Wharton’s assertions. Fisette did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The attorney general’s office said in 2009 that it could not pursue a criminal case against Fisette stemming from allegations in the early 1980s because the statute of limitations for second- and third-degree sexual assault in the early 1980s had run out. A spokesman for the attorney general also cited “inconsistencies” in the accuser’s recollection of events, The Journal reported at the time.

But the state police in 2009 and the diocese, both in 2009 and again in 2019, deemed the allegation credible, according to Journal archives.

Fisette’s accuser, reached by telephone, said he stood by his account that Fisette sexually abused him when he was a boy. He asked for his name to be withheld to protect his privacy.

Ann Hagan Webb, who said she was sexually abused by a different Rhode Island priest and is now an advocate for survivors, said most abusive priests are never charged: as the church worked doggedly to keep allegations out of the public eye, the statute of limitations on criminal charges or civil lawsuits ticked away.

“These facts do not exonerate Fr. Fisette, but speak instead to a Catholic hierarchy that protected offenders, while endangering children,” Webb said in an email.

She added of Fisette losing his job: “His employer has the right to decide who they hire and how they wish to protect children who may enter their workplace. He should only be employed in environments where he is not in the company of children.”

Goodwill is a network of nonprofits that helps people break down barriers to employment, such as criminal records or disabilities. Sales at its thrift shops help support its mission.

It has no association with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence.

On July 1, the Diocese released a list of clergy it determined had been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors. The list included 50 names, two of them listed as “publicly” accused and the rest “credibly” accused. The list included religious-order and diocesan priests and deacons.

Kevin O’Brien, a retired state police detective who is now the director of compliance for the diocese, included names on the list when “he had a reasoned and grounded belief that the allegation was sufficiently supported based upon the presently available and developed evidence,” the diocese said.

But even before Fisette’s name appeared on the list on July 1, he had been linked to the church’s sex-abuse crisis. Fisette was removed from the ministry and resigned as pastor of St. Leo the Great Church in Pawtucket in 2009 after the allegation, stemming from the early 1980s, surfaced, The Journal reported at the time.

The state police, after an investigation, found the allegations “credible,” a state police detective commander said in August 2009, even as prosecutors declined to bring a charge.

Removal from the ministry means that a priest no longer has permission from the bishop to act as a priest and perform functions such as hearing confessions, preaching homilies, celebrating Mass or wearing clerical attire, said the Rev. Timothy Reilly, the chancellor for the Diocese of Providence. But priests who are removed from the ministry are still priests. A priest is “laicized,” or defrocked, only after a specific canonical process that needs the pope’s approval, Reilly said.

The diocese did not respond when asked whether Fisette still receives diocesan benefits.

In October 2010, the local Goodwill hired Fisette, according to Borer, the president of Goodwill of Southern New England. Borer said Goodwill of Rhode Island merged into Goodwill of Southern New England at the beginning of this year, and that Goodwill of Southern New England couldn’t comment on anything before the merger.

Goodwill of Southern New England hadn’t received any complaints about Fisette since the merger, Borer said.

Lori Norris Jordan, who was leading fund development initiatives in 2010, said she brought Fisette on board as a volunteer coordinator. Hiring him even after the allegations that led to his removal from the ministry was in keeping with the organization’s mission to help people who have barriers to employment, she said.

She never received complaints about Fisette, she said, and she’s now critical of Goodwill’s decision to let him go.

“How does an agency that advocates for giving people a chance and asks employers to do the same not walk their talk?” she said in a written message. “Goodwill’s decision to do what they did to Kevin makes me shake my head. I would have stood by him.”



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