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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,'' he said.

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.

Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests