Lincoln Woman Accuses Priest of Statutory Rape; According to a Lawsuit, the Priest Had Repeatedly Committed Statutory Rape against the Woman for Nearly Two Years, Starting When She Was 15

By Jonathan Saltzman
Providence Journal-Bulletin
March 9, 1994

As Cynthia M. Lewis's mother was dying of cancer in a Boston hospital last year, she expressed a wish to her daughter. She wanted to see a longtime friend of the family, the Rev. Alfred R. Desrosiers.

Desrosiers had been an assistant pastor at the family's church, St. Joan of Arc in Cumberland, through most of the 1970s. He had dined at their home and used their swimming pool, and had arranged for Lewis, then a teenager, to help him tape music for religious services.

Her mother's request unearthed memories Lewis now says she had buried for 20 years.

According to a lawsuit filed in Superior Court last month, Desrosiers had repeatedly committed statutory rape against Lewis, beginning in 1972 when she was 15 and continuing for almost two years.

The suit says the priest would invite her to his apartment in the rectory, where he "plied" her with liquor and had intercourse with her. He never completely undressed but always removed his cleric's collar. The assaults happened as often as four times a week, Lewis' lawyer, Arlene Violet, said yesterday.

When the girl expressed misgivings, the lawsuit says, Desrosiers told her it was his responsibility to teach her about sex "and that he would only be able to continue to serve the people of God as a result of her being in his life."

Lewis contends in the lawsuit that the sexual abuse caused her psychological and physical problems and made it impossible for her to lead a normal life. Lewis, now 37, is a divorced mother of two and lives in Lincoln.

In addition to Desrosiers, the lawsuit names the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence; Bishop Louis E. Gelineau and the office of the bishop; the Rev. Roger Marot, who was director of the Catholic Youth Organization for Northern Rhode Island; the Rev. Edward Cardente, assigned to the same church as Desrosiers; and St. Joan of Arc parish.

The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, says the parties were negligent in hiring and supervising Desrosiers.

Lewis further contends that she told Father Marot about Desrosiers' sexual assaults in 1974, shortly before they stopped, but he did nothing about it.

Desrosiers was placed on a leave of absence last spring, immediately after Lewis called Bishop Gelineau's office to say that the priest had sexually abused her as a teenager, according to William G. Halpin, a diocese spokesman. Desrosiers was pastor of Our Lady of Victories in Woonsocket at the time.

"He has no assignment and has no authority to exercise his public priestly ministry," Halpin said yesterday.

Halpin said he believes Desrosiers, 58, is living in Rhode Island, but the priest could not be reached for comment.

Halpin said the lawsuit came as a surprise because the diocese had agreed last spring to pay for at least some of Lewis' psychological counseling. Halpin said that doesn't mean the diocese conceded her allegations were true.

"The diocese tries to do what's reasonable, but both sides don't always agree on what's reasonable, which is perhaps what motivated the lawsuit," Halpin said. "A difference of opinion arose between the diocesan officials and the woman over what the diocese considered to be exorbitant financial demands made by her over and above the original counseling."

He declined to elaborate.

Lewis, who directs the Retired Senior Volunteer Program for the Blackstone Valley Community Action Program in Pawtucket, has referred all calls to her lawyer. Violet said she did not know what Halpin was referring to.

Violet said the diocese agreed to help pay for counseling, but stopped in September. This upset Lewis, as did Gelineau's reaction to her complaint, according to Violet.

During one of several meetings that Violet said Lewis had with the bishop, Gelineau allegedly told her that he had spoken "to the priest, who acknowledged the sexual misconduct. But the bishop claimed that the priest said he was in love" with Lewis, Violet said.

"It was sort of like writing it off," Violet asserted.

Halpin said the diocese referred Lewis's complaint to law enforcement authorities. However, a spokesman for Atty. Gen. Jeffrey B. Pine said yesterday he was unaware of any complaint and was uncertain whether the alleged assaults could be prosecuted criminally because the statute of limitations may have expired.


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