Sex Scandal Hits Home at St. Nicholas

By Christopher Walker
Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA)
February 21, 2002

ABINGTON -- St. Nicholas Church parishioner Joanne Riley spoke softly of the shock and sadness she felt after learning that her pastor of the last five years was the latest priest to be removed from duty because of allegations of sexual misconduct.

But her thoughts soon turned to the broader effects of the pedophelia scandal enveloping the Boston Archdiocese. She said her sadness is primarily reserved for the entire Catholic Church as it sees its image becoming increasingly stained.

"I still love the Catholic Church," said Riley, who lives in Brockton. "I still love my religion. I just feel very, very bad about what's happening. There are so many good people in the church, so many people that have sacrificed having their own life for the life of the church. It's just so sad."

St. Nicholas pastor Joseph Welsh, 59, was removed from active assignment by the archdiocese yesterday because of allegations that he sexually abused minors. He is the ninth priest removed in the last month because of past sexual-abuse accusations.

The allegations came to light when alleged victims of the Rev. Welsh contacted The Boston Globe. The newspaper reported on Tuesday that the victims -- three brothers -- said Welsh posed as a close family friend while molesting them repeatedly over the course of two decades.

Two of the brothers and an alleged victim from Holbrook told the newspaper that some of the incidents occurred at a cottage owned by the Rev. Welsh's family in Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth.

In a statement released late yesterday afternoon, church officials corroborated the newspaper account and said that information obtained independently initiated a review process that led to the Rev. Welsh's removal. The statement also urged The Globe and the victims to report the allegations to authorities.

"I don't have any information," Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy Cruz said.

St. Nicholas Church, where Welsh had been the pastor since 1997, is wedged between the woods of Ames Nowell State Park and the Brockton line. Almost all of its parishioners are from Brockton.

The reaction among parishioners yesterday reflected the emotions of Catholics in any number of parishes affected by the scandal. Several refused to talk at all about the allegations against the Rev. Welsh. Others were stunned about the scandal hitting so close to home. None said they had suspicions about the Rev. Welsh.

"This whole thing is one of most disappointing things I've ever read about or been made aware of," said parishioner Craig Shea of Brockton. "If you can't trust the clergy, who can you trust?"

Parishioner Brian Winters of Brockton said: "Happening in your church is a huge shock, but it just tells you how wide this thing is. I don't if the cardinal is helping or hurting at this point, to be honest."

Shea acknowledged that he isn't a weekly Mass attendee and said he knew little of the Rev. Welsh. Riley also offered few opinions on the Rev. Welsh but said she hoped that the recent wave of allegations wasn't turning into a witch hunt in which baseless accusations ruin the images and careers of innocent priests.

A former priest who asked to remain anonymous remembered Welsh from time they spent together at St. John's Seminary in the 1960s. The former priest recalled Welsh as a "very hard worker" who had a penchant for smoking pipes.

"I hate to use the word 'shocked,' because I've seen so much in my time that nothing shocks me. But surprised? Definitely," said the former priest, who also had strong words about the handling of the most recent allegations.

"I hope that cardinal and the archdiocese aren't dumping people just because someone is dropping dimes," he said.

The allegations surrounding Welsh are not the first for an Abington parish. The Rev. Gerald Hickey, a pastor at St. Bridget's in Abington from 1987 until the mid-1990s, was suspended earlier this month because of allegations of sexual abuse.


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