Rev. Bagley's Removal Stuns Parish

By Dan De Leo
Telegram & Gazette (Massachusetts)
February 22, 2002

Eight years ago, the Rev. John J. Bagley swept into St. Mary's Parish with decades' worth of experience as a Catholic priest and big plans for the small, plain church to which he was assigned.

In just a few years, he spearheaded a massive expansion/renovation project that would cost nearly $1 million, and he energized a parish that some say was suffering from spiritual doldrums.

Now parishioners are reeling from the news that Rev. Bagley has been accused of sexual misconduct with a minor. The man who was once a commanding presence in the pulpit -- and a skilled organizer and fund-raiser -- is now nowhere to be found. He has been placed on administrative leave and even his closest friends in the parish say they don't know where he is. They say no one saw this scandal coming.

"There were no signs, no whispering, no back-door comments," said Roger D. Demers, a selectman and member of St. Mary's parish. "There was no foreknowledge at all."

Rev. Bagley was removed from his pastorship Wednesday by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester. That action followed a man's accusation against Rev. Bagley of sexual misconduct with a minor that allegedly occurred while the priest was assigned to Christ the King parish in Worcester in 1967. The accuser's name has not been released.

A former official with the Vatican, Rev. Bagley was described as a priest who was well-connected within the Catholic Church's hierarchy. Some parishioners even wondered if he might become bishop one day.

His mark on St. Mary's is the expansion project that transformed the small, nondescript church into a smartly appointed place of worship that, with 4,000 parishioners, has the largest membership in town. Rev. Bagley raised more than $800,000 for the project. With that money, he purchased adjacent land for a large parking lot, a wood-frame home and built a large brick addition onto the side of the existing structure, including a bright, airy lobby and stately bell tower.

But as ambitious as he was, he also connected with people, said Charles Bolack, publisher and editor of The Grafton News who said he is a friend of Rev. Bagley. Mr. Bolack learned about Rev. Bagley's hasty departure when he picked up the Telegram & Gazette yesterday morning.

"This is a sad situation and everybody is disturbed by it," Mr. Bolack said. "No matter what happened in the past, the record will show that he has been a good pastor and priest at St. Mary's. I think he'll get a lot of support from his parishioners."

A St. Mary's official declined to comment and referred questions to the Diocese of Worcester, whose spokesman was unavailable. Monsignor Edmond T. Tinsley will preside at Masses this weekend and also will be available to parishioners.

Along with shock, some people expressed disbelief at the charge against Rev. Bagley. One parishioner, who asked that his name not be used, said, "This has to take its course, be fully investigated. People should be assumed innocent until proven guilty. But I don't think his reputation will ever be the same after this, even though he's done tremendous good here."

Rev. Bagley was ordained in 1965 and became pastor at St. Mary's in 1994, replacing the late Rev. Paul M. Couming, another popular priest. Before coming to St. Mary's, Rev. Bagley was pastor at Our Lady of the Angels Church in Worcester. Recently, he had just returned from a vacation in Anguilla, a small island in the West Indies.

Not long before that, he had discussed with some parishioners the child sex-abuse scandal rocking the Archdiocese of Boston.

Few parishioners believed such a scandal would ever touch their lives.

"You think an accusation like this is not going to happen to your priest and your church," said parishioner Christopher R. LeMay. "And then it does."


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