Watchdog Team: Former priest sues Providence Diocese

By Brian Amaral
Providencen Journal
December 14, 2019

In a lawsuit filed Friday, John Tormey said his inclusion on the list of clergy who’d been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors cost him his job and subjected him to shame, ridicule and disgrace.

A former Rhode Island priest whose name appeared on the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence’s list of clergy who’d been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors has sued the diocese and Bishop Thomas Tobin for defamation.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, John Tormey said his inclusion on the list cost him his job and subjected him to shame, ridicule and disgrace. He never sexually abused anyone, he said, and the diocese didn’t give him an opportunity to defend himself before defaming his character.

“My client has been hesitant to take legal action against the institution which he proudly served and has remained faithful to for his entire life, both before, during, and since his service to the ministry,” his lawyer, Christopher T. Millea, said in a written statement. “But his reputation has been irreparably harmed by his inclusion on the list published by the Diocese and Bishop Tobin, and he feels this is his only remedy to such a horrible situation. Mr. Tormey loves his faith and his Church, despite having to take such actions. He looks forward to addressing these claims for the wrongs committed against him by the Diocese and or others in a court of law.”

Tormey, of East Providence, is suing the Diocese of Providence, Tobin and Kevin O’Brien, a retired state police major who heads the diocese’s office of compliance. O’Brien made the decisions on whether to include an allegation on the list, the diocese said.

The Diocese of Providence is one of many dioceses around the country that has compiled such lists in the wake of the priest abuse crisis. There are 51 names on the Diocese of Providence’s list, released July 1. The diocese said O’Brien sometimes consulted another diocesan official and a review board, most of whom don’t work for the diocese. But he “ultimately exercised his own independent, expert judgment in determining whether to place particular clergy on the list,” the diocese said.

In a letter accompanying the list, Tobin noted that inclusion on the list “does not necessarily mean that the individual is guilty of having committed sexual abuse,” unless it had been otherwise established.

Names were included, the diocese said, when O’Brien “had a reasoned and grounded belief that the allegation was sufficiently supported based upon the presently available and developed evidence.” Factors included the number of accusers, whether they were anonymous, and whether other witnesses or evidence could corroborate the allegation.

Tormey, now 77, was ordained in 1967. He voluntarily left the priesthood in 1979 to get married and start a family, he said in his complaint, filed in state Superior Court.

Throughout his years of service as a priest, he’d never been disciplined or accused of misconduct, his suit said.

While he was a priest, he wrote several books, including one called “Priests Are Only Human,” which used humorous cartoon illustrations to show the clergy through their own imperfect lives. The cover shows one priest with a surfboard, and another in Mickey Mouse ears.

He also published a slim tome called “Emotional Child Abuse,” which counsels parents on ways to avoid inadvertently hurting kids’ self-esteem and emotional development.

In 2002, Tormey said, the diocese received an allegation about him, but never told him about it — until May of this year, when they told him he’d be included in the list of “credibly accused” clergy.

In writing and in person, Tormey denied that he had abused anyone. But on July 1, his name was included on the diocese’s list, which he said was published “willfully, negligently, intentionally or recklessly.”

After leaving the priesthood, Tormey taught for 35 years at Bristol Community College. He was a professor of psychology and thanatology, the study of the practices surrounding death. He lost that job because his name was included on the list, he said.

Bishop Tobin said in an interview on WPRI as the list was being compiled that most of the priests’ names would already be known. But Tormey’s was one of four names of priests that had never been publicly accused of child sexual abuse — never sued, arrested or otherwise linked to the church’s sex abuse scandal. Another was an elderly priest still living in Pawtucket.

The diocese did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the suit.



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