DSS Investigated Priest Placed on Leave

By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette
October 21, 2004

WORCESTER - The Rev. Raymond P. Messier, who was placed on leave in 2002 by the Diocese of Worcester when allegations of sexual misconduct were made, was investigated in 2003 on another allegation by the state Department of Social Services.

DSS took seriously the allegation made against the priest and notified the diocese.

Discussions on the allegations involved the diocese and the office of District Attorney John J. Conte, but Monsignor Thomas J. Sullivan said a decision was made not to seek criminal prosecution against the priest.

Monsignor Sullivan, who is diocesan chancellor and liaison to the district attorney's office, said he did not know the reason for nonprosecution and referred an inquiry to the district attorney.

Mr. Conte did not immediately return a telephone call yesterday seeking comment.

A copy of the letter from a DSS investigator to Rev. Messier, which was also sent to Monsignor Sullivan, was released yesterday by Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso.

Mr. Durso, who called this a "contemporary complaint" against the priest, blacked out the name of the alleged victim to protect privacy before releasing the letter. Thomas W. Hilse, special investigator for DSS in Boston, informed Rev. Messier on Oct. 23, 2003, that he had talked personally with the priest about the report DSS received indicating this child may have been abused.

"After visiting with you and the children and talking to other people who have relevant information about the report, the department has found reasonable cause to support the allegation that you were sexually abusive to (name blacked out) and the report is supported," the investigator said.

Rev. Messier, who lives in Charlton, was told by the investigator that when DSS "decides to support a report" the agency is required to notify the organization for which Rev. Messier is associated. A copy of the letter was sent to Monsignor Sullivan.

Mr. Durso said the allegation investigated a year ago has no connection to any of his current clients or pending lawsuits. He called a press conference at Worcester Superior Court Tuesday to discuss the settlement offers being made by the diocese. Settlements ranged from $3,000 to $7,500, and his research showed that Worcester was settling for the lowest amounts not only in the United States but also in the world.

Mr. Durso said he was disappointed in comments made by Monsignor Sullivan in the Tuesday edition of The Boston Globe in which he said that some of the pending civil suits against the diocese lacked merit. The diocese has offered to settle pending lawsuits involving allegations of misconduct by Rev. Messier for only $3,000, he said. Mr. Durso said the allegations against Rev. Messier "clearly have merit."

Mr. Durso represents three victims of alleged sexual abuse by Rev. Messier. The alleged incidents happened in the late 1970s and 1980 at Worcester parishes. The DSS letter does not indicate where the alleged abuse investigated a year ago happened, but Rev. Messier has been living at his Charlton home since he was asked to leave the rectory at St. Francis in Athol.

Eunice White of Worcester, mother of one of the alleged victims who has a pending lawsuit against the diocese, said when she received information that Rev. Messier was seen sexually abusing one of her sons at his home in Charlton, she first contacted a Worcester police officer she knew. Mr. Durso said the police officer told Mrs. White that bringing criminal prosecution against Rev. Messier would be futile since priests in Worcester "had immunity in the courts."

She later scheduled a meeting with Bishop Timothy J. Harrington with her son's therapist at the Worcester Youth Guidance Center. The bishop assured Mrs. White that Rev. Messier would not be in a position where he had access to children again. She did not find out until 2002 that he was sent to pastor St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Athol and St. Peter Parish in Petersham.

Monsignor Sullivan said yesterday he stands by his comments and said settlement offers will be low in cases the diocese believes do not have merit.

The vast number of people who say they were abused by clergy in the diocese never sought legal action against the diocese and went directly to the diocese, he said. Those who chose to come forward to the diocese were treated with dignity, compassion and respect, he said. He said the diocese will defend itself if sued. The policy of treating people well was long-established even before creation of the Office of Healing and Prevention, which now handles victim assistance, he said.

Monsignor Sullivan told the Globe he knew the offers were lower than what was paid elsewhere because the church is claiming "charitable immunity" under Massachusetts law that caps settlements at $20,000 and because many of the cases lack merit. "Some of the cases have very weak merits," the chancellor said. "You do more for victims of egregious claims that those without as much merit," he said.

Monsignor Sullivan said the diocese has been frustrated with suits that list "John Doe" as the accuser of a priest. It can take months for the diocese to determine who the accuser actually is. Mr. Durso as a matter of policy lists alleged sexual abuse victims under pseudonyms to protect their privacy.


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