Another Man Accuses Rev. Coonan
Parishioners Plan Vigil
By Kathleen Shaw
Telegram & Gazette
August 27, 2002
- Members of St. John Church continued their support yesterday of the Rev. Joseph A. Coonan even as another person made allegations against the priest.
Nicolas O. Ledu, who said Rev. Coonan asked him to masturbate in front of him during a counseling session 28 years ago, said he believes there are many more victims who have not contacted state police.
At least 15 people have made allegations of sexual misconduct against Rev. Coonan. Mr. Ledu said he has filed a report with the state police.
Rev. Coonan's lawyer, Joseph D. Early Jr., last night said that he was unaware of Mr. Ledu's allegations, and that Rev. Coonan has denied the previous allegations. He pointed out that there have been no allegations of abuse occurring since his client was ordained.
The parishioners and other supporters of Rev. Coonan announced a candlelight vigil and walk at 7 p.m. Sept. 5. The group will start from the front of the church, 44 Temple St., and proceed to City Hall. All participants are to carry candles and green ribbons as a show of support.
Rev. Coonan was removed from his pastorship of St. John Church on Aug. 1 by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly after what the Catholic Diocese of Worcester called "credible" allegations of sexual abuse. The supporters believe that Rev. Coonan acknowledged being a sinner before he became a priest and that the allegations involve actions that happened before ordination.
A short service of prayers, poems and favorite music of Rev. Coonan will be conducted at the church after the procession. Refreshments will be provided at the conclusion in the church hall.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network Against Priest Abuse, said the continued support of Rev. Coonan by St. John parishioners after so many alleged victims have come forward, could act as a deterrent against other people coming forward.
Children are still being sexually abused throughout the country, Mr. Clohessy said. When they see the attitudes of adults in the case of Rev. Coonan, it makes it harder for them to reveal the abuse, he said.
Mr. Ledu said, "For the better part of a decade (Rev. Coonan) seduced young boys and teenagers into performing sexual acts for his delight, acts that included defecation and urination." He said he fears Rev. Coonan's supporters are making the priest into a "quasi saint."
Mr. Ledu, who lives northwest of Worcester, said the abuse by Rev. Coonan "was openly talked about in Oxford."
Mr. Ledu said while he was growing up in Oxford he heard stories regarding Rev. Coonan "repeated over and over around town," and then he had his own encounter with Rev. Coonan.
Mr. Ledu said the Crisis Center on Main Street in Oxford, which was operated by Rev. Coonan, was a place where young people could hang out and meet their friends. Rev. Coonan, who was not then a priest, would offer counseling, he said.
"Joseph Coonan would come and go. He introduced himself as a counselor for the young people that met there.
"One night, I asked Joe if I could talk with him. In other words, I initiated our conversation. I felt comfortable approaching him because it was understood that he was a counselor," he said.
Mr. Ledu said they went into a small office where Mr. Coonan shut the door. He said he shared some thoughts typical of a 14-year-old going through puberty, he said.
"He listened intently and asked a few questions here and there. Nothing seemed unusual until Joe Coonan asked me, 'Would you like to masturbate now? In front of me? It's OK if you do. It is natural. There is nothing wrong with it if you do.
"I was confused by the sudden change in his demeanor and his eagerness to have me perform a sexual act in front of him.
"I told him I was not interested in doing that sort of thing in front of him or anyone else. And I got up to leave. He also stood up and ended the meeting. That was it. Nothing more," he said.
He called the incident "fairly mild" compared to what he discovered later had happened to other youngsters in Oxford. "For the next few years, a couple of my buddies would warn me about Coonan, so I avoided him as much as possible. They told me of Coonan's skinny-dipping with young teenagers, all boys," he said.
Mr. Ledu said he has not been in contact with any of the other victims and moved out of town in 1977, shortly after graduating from high school.
Rev. Coonan had an effect on all who met with him, he said. "Either he dazzled you with his charisma or he came across as suspicious, sly and shifty," he said. Mr. Ledu said he was at first "dazzled" by Rev. Coonan's charisma but changed his opinion after the private session.
"I admire the other men who are coming forth now and telling their individual stories. Many others in Oxford who were there know the truth. I could certainly name the names of former friends and classmates who had far worse experiences with Coonan than I did, but they need to come forth on their own. I hope they do. In my opinion, the combined testimony of all Coonan's victims will aid in protecting potential victims in the future. The truth needs to be told," he said.
Mr. Ledu said he believes Rev. Coonan's supporters "have jumped to a conclusion long before all the facts have come out."
Mr. Early said that the latest alleged incident was 15 years before his client became a priest, and nearly twice the 15-year statute of limitations. "Now that he is a very popular priest, all these allegations are coming from before he was a priest," he said.
"Despite that, he has been removed from being a priest. He's asking people to pray for him and the alleged victims. He would like to be back at St. John's, but he will abide by what the bishop says.
"He has prevented a suicide, saved marriages. He's thanking people for focusing on the good he has done," Mr. Early said.
The controversy between the alleged victims and the supporters of Rev. Coonan was discussed during the weekend on the discussion board at www.FatherCoonan.com, a Web site set up by his supporters. Some alleged victims told their stories on the Internet, with supporters of Rev. Coonan offering their views. The discussion board was not operating yesterday. Discussion also moved to the site operated by SNAP at www.survivorsnetwork.org, these views were in favor of the alleged victims.
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