D.A. Conte Urged to Release Allegations of Abuse
Friday, May 3, 2002
By Kathleen A. Shaw - Telegram & Gazette Staff
WORCESTER -- Gregory J. White, a Republican candidate for district
attorney, yesterday called on incumbent John J. Conte to make public
the number of credible allegations of sexual abuse by priests of
the Worcester Diocese.
This information has been in Mr. Conte's office "for some time,
but not disclosed,'' Mr. White said yesterday. Mr. Conte, a Democrat,
said yesterday he is in the midst of a major investigation of possible
abuse by priests and will release the number when the investigation
is complete. "I do it by the book,'' he said.
He said the diocese turned over a large amount of information in
the past 2 1/2 weeks after being issued a grand jury subpoena. The
diocese has been cooperative and has provided additional information
when requested, the district attorney said. Mr. Conte said he believes
he has "viable cases,'' meaning he may be able to prosecute.
Mr. White said the information is "critically important for parents
in Worcester County to know the scope of the problem when making
decisions regarding their children's welfare.'' The candidate said
his call for openness is in line with his commitment "to create
new and stronger protections for the children of Worcester County.''
Mr. White, a Boylston resident, announced recently he will oppose
Mr. Conte in the November election. He formerly was a prosecutor
in Mr. Conte's office, but most recently has prosecuted cases for
the Norfolk and Middlesex districts.
His call for disclosure comes at a time when five active priests
have been removed from area parishes after allegations of sexual
misconduct were made. The most recent was the Rev. Chester J. Devlin,
who directed the Respect Life office for the Worcester Diocese and
was pastor of St. Bernadette's parish in Northboro.
Mr. White described a "credible'' allegation as those substantiated
by a civil settlement with the victim, by assignment of a priest
to a treatment program for sexual abuse, "or by some other reliable
corroboration, such as an admission.''
He said public disclosure of the number of credible allegations
"would be a much-needed step toward creating a better-informed
community and would have no effect upon ongoing investigations,''
Mr. White said other Massachusetts district attorneys have provided
similar information to the public, including district attorneys
for Middlesex and Suffolk counties. "The public has a right to
know the extent of the problem,'' he said. "I believe it is the
duty of the district attorney to be forthcoming with appropriate
information in a timely manner in dealing with this serious issue.''
Mr. Conte said information is coming to his office directly from
alleged victims or is being turned over by the diocese. "We are
sifting through it all. If the information is not specific we got
back to the diocese,'' he said.
"Our goal, in addition to prosecution, is to be able at some point
to assure the public that there is no clergy person sitting in active
ministry who has been accused of child sexual abuse, whether or
not we prosecute. That is very important,'' he said.
Mr. Conte said although Bishop Daniel P. Reilly has removed five
active priests since February, many of the allegations presented
to him go back to the 1960s, '70s and '80s. "This will make it
difficult to prosecute, but we will want to remove anyone where
a credible allegation is made,'' he said.
"I believe we have viable cases. But as we move through this I
want to ensure the integrity of the investigation,'' Mr. Conte said.