Providence Diocese Suspends Priest Following Abuse Allegation

Associated Press State & Local Wire
March 28, 2002

The Diocese of Providence suspended an assistant pastor at St. Martha Church in East Providence after a man accused the priest of sexually assaulting him at least 35 years ago.

The Rev. Normand J. Demers was suspended on Monday. The church's pastor, the Rev. Jude P. McGeough, told stunned parishioners at Mass on Wednesday morning.

Demers "categorically and without reservation" denied the allegations in a statement he faxed to The Providence Journal.

"People will of course believe what they want to believe, but God knows I speak the truth," he said. "I became a priest 44 years ago to serve people, not to abuse them in any way. I have strived to do the best I could."

Phone messages left at the rectory for Demers and McGeough were not immediately returned Thursday. The diocese released a statement saying Demers was placed on a leave of absence and would not live at the rectory during an internal investigation.

The diocese also said that the matter was referred to the State Police and the Attorney General's Office.

"On the Monday of Holy Week we had a wonderful celebration of the priesthood at the Cathedral," the Most Rev. Robert Mulvee, the bishop of Providence, said in a statement. "But my heart was heavy, knowing that this complaint had been received that day. In keeping with our policy, I removed Fr. Demers from active ministry that afternoon."

The diocese said that a man wrote a letter to the diocese, alleging that Demers had unspecified sexual contact with him at Fatima Hospital, where the priest was a chaplain. The man said he was about 12 or 14 years old.

McGeough said the man asked for money in the letter.

"This is too much," said McGeough.

McGeough said he was told of the accusations against Demers, and the priest's suspension, by the Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Providence.

Demers, an author as well as a priest, was pastor of St. Joseph Church in Providence before becoming assistant pastor at St. Martha 12 years ago.

"This accusation, coming as it does at a time when the news is full of charges of sexual abuse by clergy, is a very sad one for me, my family, my friends and most of all for the people of St. Martha's," Demers said in his statement.

At a penance service Wednesday night, many parishioners wept upon hearing of Demers' suspension.

"I don't believe the person who made the accusation," said Almerinda Calouro, who has had three sons serve as altar boys under Demers. "If you know Father Normand, you know he's a very goodhearted person. He makes kids think. I can't believe this is happening."

The diocese has said it has taken steps to avoid cases of sexual abuse by priests and has adopted a "zero tolerance" policy.

In the past 15 years, there have been 11 other Rhode Island priests removed from their duties following allegations of sexual abuse by parishioners, according to the diocese.


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