Misconduct by Priests Is Alleged
Diocese Lacked Rules for Sex

By Dianne Williamson
Worcester Telegram & Gazette
May 19, 1996

Edward L. Gagne always wanted to be a priest. His lawyer said he would have been a wonderful shepherd.

"He's what I think about when I think of what a priest should be," said attorney Stephen J. Lyons. "He's the most thoughtful, kind and generous person I've ever met. I couldn't help but think, while he was giving his deposition, of what a great priest he would have made."

Gagne never became a priest. Instead he alleges he became a victim of priests, and of church leaders who repeatedly ignored and covered up their sins.

Documents connected to a civil lawsuit making its way through the legal system offer disturbing new evidence to bolster long-held suspicions that leaders of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester, from the late Bishop John J. Wright in the 1950s to retired Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, were aware that a significant number of their priests were being accused of sexual misconduct, and yet they failed to protect children from them.

In a deposition he gave Dec. 12, one containing contradictions and discrepancies, Bishop Harrington acknowledged that he had received some 30 complaints of sexual abuse - involving about 20 priests - that had occurred before 1983, the year he became bishop.

Asked by Gagne's lawyer if he did anything to ensure that these priests had no unsupervised contact with children, Harrington responded, "I took them from active ministry when - when they admitted their misbehavior (italics are mine), or when - let me see what other reasons I'd say - or their - their case became public."

"Did you personally ever discourage a victim or a victim's family from telling anyone about the allegations that they had made about a priest?" Harrington was asked.

"I might have said to some people, "Listen, you can do as you please, but usually in matters like this everybody gets hurt. It's like a divorce, everybody gets hurt.' " Some get hurt more than others, though.

Gagne, now a 33-year-old staffer for the City Manager's Executive Office of Employment and Training, claims he was sexually assaulted as a 13-year-old altar boy by the Rev. Brendan O'Donoghue, who lured him into the rectory to count the proceeds of collections from Mass. Years later, Gagne said, after relating the trauma to a priest helping him prepare for the seminary, he was assaulted by that priest, the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo.

He is suing O'Donoghue, Inzerillo, Harrington, retired Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan and the Diocese of Worcester. A motion by the diocese to dismiss the lawsuit will be heard June 7 in Worcester Superior Court.

As part of pretrial preparation, Gagne's lawyer took lengthy depositions from the defendants. While Inzerillo and O'Donoghue denied the charges (although O'Donoghue did admit that he fondled Gagne's chest and was sexually tempted by the youth), their own words serve to confirm that the diocese, rather than address the problem of pedophilia by its clergy, simply transferred troubled priests from parish to parish.

In his first 15 years in the diocese, for example, O'Donoghue was re-assigned 12 times. During that time - and before he allegedly assaulted Gagne - O'Donoghue was notified by diocese officials of at least two separate complaints that he had sexually abused a child within his parish.

In 1954, while assigned to St. Brigid's Church in Millbury, then-Bishop Wright told O'Donoghue that he had been accused of inappropriate sexual contact with a child in a car.

"He asked me that I spend some time at the monastery in Spencer (at) St. Joseph's Abbey," O'Donoghue recalled in his deposition. "I was just to spend some time in prayer out there and make a confession."

He was then transferred to another parish.

In July of 1978, when Gagne was 13, O'Donoghue lured him into a bedroom at the rectory of Our Lady of the Rosary in Spencer, where he pushed him on the bed, unbuckled his pants, fondled Gagne's penis and forced the boy to masturbate him, according to Gagne. He then told Gagne not to tell, or he'd remove him as an altar boy.

In December of that year, Gagne and his parents met with then-Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan and told him what had happened. They also gave Flanagan letters that O'Donoghue had written to Gagne. Flanagan reportedly told the boy not to tell anyone. No counseling or other assistance was offered.

After that meeting, O'Donoghue was directed by Flanagan and Harrington, then involved in the transfer of priests, to spend time at the House of Affirmation. A treatment facility for priests, including those who molested young boys, the house was closed in 1989, two years after it was rocked by allegations of gross mismanagement and financial improprieties. O'Donoghue spent three days at the facility, and was later transferred to a parish in Southboro.

(The founder of the House of Affirmation, the Rev. Thomas Kane, was himself the focus of a lawsuit filed in 1993 by an Uxbridge man who claims Kane sexually assaulted him when he was 9.) Harrington's deposition is rife with contradiction about the extent of his knowledge of sexual abuse accusations made against priests. First he said he did transfer such priests. Then he said he didn't. He waffled repeatedly about when complaints came to his attention, and what he did about them.

At one point, Harrington discussed a meeting he held in the early 1990s with diocesan priests to address the issue of sexual misconduct. Asked why he held the meeting, he replied, "Because of the rash of publicity that these were receiving in the local and national news."

Lyons, Gagne's lawyer, asked if there was any other reason.

"Well, certainly I called it to - how do I put it - to stop what I thought was a - was a - to try and stop what I thought was a - a serious evil."

Lyons: "When was it that you came to the conclusion, for the first time, that something needed to be done about this serious evil?" Harrington: "I think I always felt something needed to be done about this serious evil ..."

Lyons: "It's a problem that has plagued the diocese - all dioceses, but the Diocese of Worcester insofar as your experience is concerned, for a long time, isn't it?" Harrington: "I don't know why you are singling us out."

Flanagan testified in his deposition that, while he was bishop from 1959 through 1983, "there were no formalized procedures for dealing with ... allegations of sexual misconduct by priests."

Harrington, bishop from 1983 to 1994, said the same thing.

His deposition is 124 pages. The pages are a sad testament of betrayal - betrayal of victims, of church doctrine, and of the large number of good and dedicated priests who are unfairly tainted by a legacy of sexual misconduct.

Lyons believes it's important for such issues to be made public, because only the weight of public scrutiny prompts significant change in large institutions such as the Catholic Church.

A diocesan spokesman declined last week to comment on the lawsuit, as did a diocesan lawyer. Inzerillo and Kane are on administrative leave and do not live in the area. O'Donoghue is retired and lives in Shrewsbury.

"I don't think the church intentionally endangered anyone," Lyons said. "But for decades, it was in denial about this problem. The denial endangered children and allowed sexual predators to run loose and unchecked.

"I represent a young man who will carry the scars of this abuse for the rest of his life," Lyons said. "This young man has to have his day in court, and the church has to be held accountable."

Gagne eventually entered the seminary, but never completed his studies. Today, he conducts a church choir and attends Mass, but he no longer receives the sacraments. He is among the many victims of priestly sins whose pain runs as deep as their faith.

"Stripped of his respect of church elders, he still looks for a way to praise God," Lyons said. "This really is a tragedy in so many ways."


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