Mass. Probe of Priest Going to Da's Office

By Michael P. McKinney
Providence Journal-Bulletin (Rhode Island)
October 17, 2003

State investigators do not have enough evidence to support allegations that the Rev. Hernando Herrera had "inappropriate contact" with two children. But the investigators for the state Department of Social Services will file a report with the Bristol County District Attorney's office, which will decide whether to open its own probe.

A major reason for the outcome is that the Seekonk parish priest was not in a "caretaker" role during the alleged incidents, according to Denise Monteiro, spokeswoman for the Department of Social Services. A caretaker is "the controlling adult" in a situation, such as a babysitter or a Scout leader, who is responsible for a child's well-being or endangerment.

The burden of corroborating allegations against a caretaker is different than against someone not acting in his or her position of authority. For the latter, investigators need witnesses to confirm an alleged victim's story.

"We would possibly have a different result," if Father Herrera had been in a "caretaker" role, based on evidence investigators did find, Monteiro said.

The nature of the allegations has not been detailed.

"Especially since it is unsupported, we can't elaborate on anything," Monteiro said.

In August, Father Herrera, a youth minister who has served at Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Seekonk since 1999, was placed on administrative leave by the Diocese of Fall River while the Department of Social Services special investigations unit sought out interviews.

Before being placed on leave, Father Herrera was a parochial vicar at Mount Carmel who assisted the parish's pastor, the Rev. George Harrison. Father Herrera is a former elementary school teacher with a master's degree in child psychology.

The Department of Social Services expects to send the report to the district attorney's office next week.

Asst. Dist. Atty. Walter Shea said it is standard for the district attorney's office to review the social-services investigators' file.

"And if we conclude that it was needed, we would do our own independent investigation to either corroborate what [social-services investigators] say or perhaps contradict it," Shea said. "We would conduct that investigation and do the necessary interviews and the like, and then see if there is sufficient evidence to charge somebody."

After news of the investigation in mid-August, Our Lady of Mount Carmel Parish members offered strong support for Father Herrera and their belief that he was innocent of the allegations.

John Kearns, spokesman for the Diocese of Fall River, could not be reached for comment yesterday. It was not known yesterday whether the diocese would conduct its own investigation or whether Father Herrera would remain on administrative leave.


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