Judge Allows Lawsuit
Fitchburg Priest Faces Sex Complaint

By Gary V. Murray
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
December 13, 1996

WORCESTER — A Superior Court judge has rejected a Fitchburg priest's argument that a civil suit against him alleging indecent sexual assault is barred, as a matter of law, by the statute of limitations.

In a decision issued Monday, Judge Allan van Gestel denied the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo's motion for summary judgment in a suit brought against Inzerillo, the Rev. Brendan O'Donoghue and Roman Catholic diocesan officials by Edward L. Gagne in 1994. A summary judgment is a judgment without the necessity of a trial on the basis of undisputed facts as disclosed by the pleadings in a case.

Gagne, of Spencer, alleges in the suit that he was sexually assaulted as a 13-year-old altar boy by O'Donoghue in the rectory of Our Lady of the Rosary in Spencer. The assault is alleged to have occurred in 1978.

Gagne further alleges that Inzerillo sexually assaulted him in 1985 when Inzerillo was vocation director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester and Gagne was considering entering the priesthood.

Inzerillo, who is on administrative leave from St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg, and O'Donoghue, who is retired, denied Gagne's allegations in depositions.

STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS Lawyer Beth A. Bagley, representing Inzerillo, argued in court filings that Gagne's claims against Inzerillo, which include allegations of sexual assault and battery, negligence, invasion of right of privacy, clergy malpractice and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, are legally barred by the statute of limitations because the suit was filed more than three years after the alleged abuse.

In denying the motion, however, van Gestel said case law has established that the statute of limitations in such cases does not begin until the plaintiff learns, or reasonably should have learned, that he or she has been harmed by a defendant's conduct.

Gagne contends that he did not realize the connection between the alleged sexual assaults by Inzerillo and O'Donoghue and his resulting psychological and emotional harm until 1991, when he was undergoing psychiatric counseling


Van Gestel noted that another Superior Court judge, Daniel F. Toomey, ruled earlier in the case that Gagne had "presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to when he knew or should have known that his injuries were caused by the defendants' conduct.

"Such an issue is material to the defense of statute of limitations and renders defendants' motion premature," Toomey found.

Toomey's June 26 ruling was in response to a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment filed by lawyers for O'Donoghue, retired Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan and retired Bishop Timothy J. Harrington.

Toomey allowed the motion as to clergy malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty claims against O'Donoghue, Flanagan, Harrington and the diocese and denied it as to all other claims against those defendants, including negligence, sexual assault and battery, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against O'Donoghue and the diocese and negligence and negligent hiring and supervision claims against Flanagan and Harrington.

At the time the lawsuit was filed, Inzerillo, who grew up in Barre and graduated from the former Barre High School, was diocesan vocations director and has been pastor of St. Anthony de Padua Church, Fitchburg, since 1985. He was headmaster of St. Peter-Marian High School, Worcester, from 1979 until going to Fitchburg. He also served as hockey coach at St. Peter-Marian and then at St. Bernard's in Fitchburg. He was ordained in 1970 by then Bishop Flanagan. He was associate pastor at St. Ann's Church, Leominster, after ordination and then was transferred to St. Peter's High School, which later merged with Marian. While teaching he was in residence at St. Columba's rectory, Paxton, St. Stephen's rectory and Our Lady of Lourdes.


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