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D.A. Conte, Worcester Diocese Mum on Numbers

Sunday, April 21, 2002

By Richard Nangle - Telegram & Gazette Staff

Just the number -- 90 priests accused of sexual abuse -- has dogged Cardinal Bernard F. Law as the pressure mounts for him to resign from the Boston Archdiocese.

In the neighboring Worcester Diocese, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly is facing no such pressure. He has agreed to turn over names of accused priests to Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte. But so far, there has been no disclosure of the number.

Despite numerous allegations of sexual abuse committed by its priests, the climate surrounding the Worcester Diocese bears little resemblance to that of the Boston Archdiocese.

Like Cardinal Law, Worcester Bishop Reilly has signed off on confidential settlement agreements during his time here. Furthermore, he is named in a string of sexual abuse lawsuits that date back to his time as bishop of Norwich, Conn., and holder of several high-ranking titles in the Providence Diocese.

Last week, a Connecticut man whose brother committed suicide years after allegedly being sexually abused by a priest in the Norwich diocese called for Bishop Reilly's resignation. But it is there that the similarity between Bishop Reilly's situation and that of Cardinal Law ends.

The number of priests in the Boston Archdiocese accused of sexual abuse has been made public by individual district attorneys and totals about 90.

That no such number has been available from Bishop Reilly or Mr. Conte is a sore point for some who have been watching the priest abuse scandal closely.

“If they're not going to say how many, then what's the point?” said Phil Saviano, New England regional director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

“This is a matter of great public importance, particularly to the parishioners of the Worcester Diocese. I would think they would be unwilling to accept this,” he said. “Is it because the number is so high that it would be an embarrassment?”

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, the Fall River Diocese has turned over the names of 32 priests to prosecutors in Bristol County and on the Cape and Islands, the Boston Herald reported. The Springfield Diocese has turned over names to prosecutors in four Western Massachusetts counties. As is the case in Worcester, the number of priests involved has not been released.

The Providence Diocese last month disclosed that all known cases of sexual misconduct against minors after 1979 had been reported previously to authorities.

“To me it doesn't matter if there's one or 100. If there is one, that is bad enough,” said Ann Mangold, who has a child enrolled at St. Leo Elementary School in Leominster. “They should let the people know how many there are.”

“Would numbers be helpful? Perhaps, but it's not part of what we're insisting on,” said Ginny Ryan, a member of a group of parishioners at Christ the King Church in Worcester who are withholding contributions to the Diocese of Worcester until Bishop Reilly considers several of their recommendations having to do with priest sexual abuse.

Unlike the situation in Boston, where Cardinal Law is under fire for reassigning two priests who were hit with multiple abuse complaints, much of the activity in Worcester predated Bishop Reilly.
Still, Bishop Reilly has reassigned at least one priest, who was accused of sexual abuse in a lawsuit that was settled for $300,000.

Last month, Bishop Reilly removed that priest, Rev. Peter Inzerillo, from his duties at St. Leo's Church and the St. Leo Elementary School in Leominster. While allegations of improper reassignments in other dioceses, including Boston, go back several years, Bishop Reilly reassigned Rev. Inzerillo in late 2000, several years after the lawsuit in question was settled.

The Worcester Diocese is about one-sixth the size of the Boston Archdiocese, but similar in size to many across the country.

Mr. Saviano says Worcester has had more than its share of alleged abusers.

“It seems pretty high to me,” he said. “It has always seemed high.”

The Worcester situation is complicated by the fact that it was the host diocese for the former House of Affirmation, where some priests under treatment for psychological problems would later be accused of sexual abuse upon reassignment.

The Whitinsville-based facility closed several years before Bishop Reilly came to Worcester. But one of the confidential settlement agreements signed by Bishop Reilly names priests who were treated there in what appears to have been a child sex ring.

Where the Worcester Diocese differs most from Boston is in the fact that it does not have new allegations of an offender with a long track record, such as the Rev. John J. Geoghan and the Rev. Paul R. Shanley in the Boston Archdiocese. The accusations against those two priests have helped create much of the groundswell against Cardinal Law.

Few American church leaders are facing the same pressure as Cardinal Law.

Cardinal Edward Egan in New York City is under fire for his actions as head of the Bridgeport, Conn., Diocese. A few other bishops, including John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., are feeling the pressure of parishioners calling for their resignations. But the vast majority of bishops and cardinals, even those who have reassigned priests accused of sexual abuse, have not been pressured to resign by their flocks.

But as long as Mr. Conte refrains from releasing the names of accused priests turned over by the diocese, questions about Bishop Reilly's culpability will not go away, according to Mr. Saviano.

“Things are still being uncovered, things are still being investigated. I think it's too early to make the final analysis that things in Worcester are not nearly as bad as they are in Boston,” Mr. Saviano said.

Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests