Accused Priest Continues Duties
Diocese Says Case Is Different
By Richard Nangle
Sunday Telegram (Massachusetts)
March 3, 2002
Although some priests in New England have been removed from their parishes because of charges of sexual abuse, one similarly accused Central Massachusetts priest continues to serve as an associate pastor.
The one difference in the situation of the Rev. Peter Inzerillo, assigned to St. Leo's Church in Leominster, is that the person who accused him of sexual abuse was 19 years old and not a minor when the acts allegedly occurred.
Edward Gagne of Spencer, now employed as a planner in the City Manager's Office of Employment and Training in Worcester, said he met Rev. Inzerillo after deciding in the 1980s that he wanted to enter the seminary. He said he told Rev. Inzerillo he had been abused six years earlier by another priest in the Worcester diocese.
Armed with that information, Mr. Gagne alleged, Rev. Inzerillo took the opportunity to sexually abuse him and blame him for the earlier abuse.
Bishop Daniel P. Reilly's decision not to remove Rev. Inzerillo is a puzzling one, according to Philip A. Saviano, an advocate for victims of abuse by members of the clergy and head of the New England chapter of SNAP- the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests. Mr. Saviano believes that Rev. Inzerillo would not be a priest with an active parish assignment if the allegations against him had been raised in any number of dioceses in New England and elsewhere.
The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has removed nine priests from parish assignments after evidence surfaced of sexual abuse of minors and has forwarded to prosecutors the names of more than 80 priests suspected of sexual abuse.
The Diocese of Worcester two weeks ago removed the Rev. John J. Bagley from his pastorship at St. Mary's Church in North Grafton because of an accusation of sexual abuse that allegedly occurred in 1967.
But diocesan spokesman Raymond L. Delisle says he sees little to compare in the cases of Rev. Bagley and Rev. Inzerillo, despite the fact that the diocese paid Mr. Gagne $300,000 to settle a lawsuit he had filed against the diocese, Rev. Inzerillo and another priest. The $300,000 is believed to be one the largest sexual abuse lawsuit settlements ever paid by the diocese.
Mr. Gagne's testimony regarding Rev. Inzerillo is an often ugly account alleging that a church official, who knew he was counseling a young man who had been abused by another priest, compounded the grief.
Rev. Inzerillo has steadfastly maintained his innocence. Attempts to contact him by telephone at St. Leo's yesterday were unsuccessful. In depositions before the settlement, he categorically denied every charge made against him by Mr. Gagne.
For its part, the Worcester diocese maintains that Rev. Inzerillo remains an active priest because he was never convicted of a crime and because Mr. Gagne was 19 and an adult when the abuse allegedly occurred. Pressed for a distinction between the abuse of a 19-year-old and the abuse of a minor, Mr. Delisle repeated that Rev. Inzerillo was never convicted of sexual abuse.
In a deposition given in support of his lawsuit, Mr. Gagne said he had 16 meetings with Rev. Inzerillo in the rectory of St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg during a period of slightly more than one year. Mr. Gagne said the meetings initially were counseling sessions.
Mr. Gagne met Rev. Inzerillo, the vocation director for the diocese, after expressing interest in becoming a priest. It was 1985, and Mr. Gagne, then 19, told Rev. Inzerillo that he had been sexually abused early in his teen-age years by the Rev. Brendan O'Donoghue, pastor of a church in Spencer that Mr. Gagne had attended.
During therapy in 1991, Mr. Gagne said, he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of his experiences with both priests.
In a deposition he gave in the lawsuit, Rev. Inzerillo described his role as vocation director for the diocese as "advisory and consultative. It would be my responsibility to speak with the candidates ... for diocesan priesthood" regarding their educational and general background. Rev. Inzerillo said he would recommend candidates for the priesthood to then-Bishop Timothy J. Harrington for sponsorship to a seminary.
Rev. Inzerillo became vocation director in June 1983, adding the pastorate at St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg to his duties in 1985.
Early in Rev. Inzerillo's tenure as vocation director, a candidate for admission alleged that the priest made an inappropriate sexual remark to him as he brought him into the vocation office.
The accuser, Christopher Therrien, was summoned to a meeting with Rev. Inzerillo, Monsignor Edmond T. Tinsley and the Rev. Rocco Piccolomini, director of priest personnel. Mr. Therrien repeated the accusation, and Rev. Inzerillo denied it.
Rev. Inzerillo said in his deposition that knew from Mr. Gagne's application for the priesthood that he claimed he was sexually abused by Rev. O'Don- oghue years earlier.
The way Mr. Gagne described it, Rev. Inzerillo said "he had the credentials to counsel me, and he asked me if I wanted him to counsel me."
Mr. Gagne said the two met for 16 hourlong sessions beginning in July 1995 and continuing through October 1986.
About halfway through the sessions, Rev. Inzerillo introduced into the discussions talk of male bonding and male affection, according to Mr. Gagne.
At one point, Rev. Inzerillo initiated "a hug which led to an embrace. ... I didn't reciprocate, I pulled away," Mr. Gagne testified.
At a subsequent meeting, Mr. Gagne alleges, Rev. Inzerillo said it was appropriate and natural to share an interest in persons of the same sex. He said Rev. Inzerillo touched him on the knee and embraced him "and I jolted back." He added, however, that he did not believe Rev. Inzerillo's actions at the time were of a sexual nature.
He said Rev. Inzerillo told him that homosexual tendencies were appropriate on occasion and that such feelings did not make a person gay. At the next session, Mr. Gagne alleged, Rev. Inzerillo kissed him on the neck and later asked whether he was gay.
"The therapy increased in terms of the amount of holding," Mr. Gagne said. "We had embraced after that, so the holding was probably up to like 15, 20 minutes."
He said Rev. Inzerillo would "lift me up off the chair, he would take my hands and put them around his shoulder, and he would take his hands and put them around my waist.
"It was an ongoing thing. ... It didn't feel very good. I was confused, I thought I was being overly sensitive to my previous abuse," Mr. Gagne said.
He said it was during the 14th session that he admitted to feeling comfortable being gay. He said Rev. Inzerillo asked him to describe what he did sexually as a gay person.
In the 15th session, Mr. Gagne said he felt numb.
"I didn't know what to say. ... I started to experience a lot of confusion about my sexuality. Inzerillo has indicated to me that I basically molested O'Don- oghue, and I was using my father's penis as a means of connection."
He said he began to cry and that Rev. Inzerillo "came over to me and lifted me off the chair, he grabbed my arms and he put them around his shoulders and then he dropped his hands to my buttocks area and he squeezed my buttocks and then he pulled me closer to him and then I felt his erection push against me. And then he got my hand and he placed it down in his groin area and I pulled my hand away. And he stopped and the session ended."
At the next and what would turn out to be the final session, Mr. Gagne said he was angry and confused. He said Rev. Inzerillo told him "that gay relationships were stemmed from poor relationships with my dad or male figures, in particular my father, and he talked about the disadvantages of being gay."
Weeks later, Mr. Gagne said, he telephoned Rev. Inzerillo to say that he would not be attending any more sessions.
Mr. Gagne began a pattern of starting and stopping therapy sessions in 1989. By 1993, his therapist was convinced that Mr. Gagne had been harmed by his awareness about sexual abuse by Rev. O'Donoghue and Rev. Inzerillo.
"I think in the instance with Father Inzerillo, I think that was in many ways a more confusing incident, although it occurred at a later age; more confusing because he knew that Father Inzerillo ... was aware of what had happened with Father O'Donoghue," the therapist said in a deposition.
Rev. Inzerillo denies providing any sort of counseling to Mr. Gagne, saying that his role was limited to that of vocation director. He says he met with Mr. Gagne twice, the second time to inform him that he would not be a suitable candidate for the priesthood.
When Mr. Gagne filed his suit, Bishop Harrington placed Rev. Inzerillo on administrative leave, then later reassigned him to St. Leo's parish.
Asked last month about the apparent discrepancy between priests accused of sexual abuse being relieved of their duties in the Boston archdiocese, while Rev. Inzerillo continues to serve Mass, Bishop Reilly responded:
"Why is it different from the Boston archdiocese? Because this is the Worcester diocese," he said.
A week later, he relieved Rev. Bagley from his duties.
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