SNAP Calls Fr. Coonan Support "Misguided"
Saturday, August 31, 2002
By Kathleen A. Shaw, Telegram & Gazette Staff
WORCESTER-- David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network
of Those Abused by Priests, said yesterday that Bishop Daniel P.
Reilly of the Diocese of Worcester must exercise leadership and
put a stop to the movement that supports the Rev. Joseph A. Coonan.
Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan spokesman, said the bishop cannot
order the people to do anything. He said the people at St. John's
parish need time to adjust to what has happened, and Bishop Reilly
is working behind the scenes with the group.
The bishop has met with the leadership of the Coonan support movement
and is trying to move them in a positive direction, Mr. Delisle
said. He acknowledged that people at St. John Church have had a
traumatic time and need time to adjust to what has happened.
Patricia Engdahl, who heads the bishop's prevention and healing
office, also has been out meeting with people at St. John parish
and is open to more meetings, Mr. Delisle said.
He said he has been told that the supporters of Rev. Coonan will
not be walking to City Hall Thursday, but will remain in the church
and hold a prayer vigil.
That's a small step, Mr. Clohessy said.
Although the support group previously announced the vigil, the
Web site at www.FatherCoonan.com said yesterday the vigil would
be at the church, 44 Temple St.
A group of people who support the alleged victims plan their own
vigil at the same time, but moving in the opposite direction.
Mr. Clohessy said the supporters of Rev. Coonan, through their
activities, are intimidating and frightening alleged abuse victims
and making it harder for victims of abuse by anyone -- whether it
be clergy, a coach or teacher -- to come forward and tell their
The national director said he believes the diocese is violating
the new national sexual abuse policy adopted in June by the American
bishops, at least in spirit, by allowing the supporters
of Rev. Coonan to continue their activities. These activities include
taunts that Coonan supporters would string green ribbons from Worcester
to Oxford, putting up posters and some of the comments made on their
More than 15 men have made reports to state police alleging that
Rev. Coonan abused them in various ways when he was a teacher at
Oxford High School. These allegations are that, at various times,
he asked teenage boys to urinate, defecate and masturbate in front
Bishop Reilly removed Rev. Coonan from his pastorship Aug. 1 after
the allegations were relayed to him by Worcester District Attorney
John J. Conte.
Mr. Clohessy, who is based in St. Louis, spoke from the viewpoint
of a victim of priest abuse at the bishops' meeting in Dallas in
June, when the bishops adopted the new national policy regarding
sexual abuse by clergy and other church workers.
The national director yesterday also asked Bishop Wilton Gregory,
who heads the American bishops, to do what he can to halt accused
priests from filing lawsuits against their accusers. No suits have
been filed by priests in the Worcester diocese.
Bishop Reilly since February has removed seven priests from their
parishes after receiving what the diocese called credible
allegations that they abused minors. They are Rev. Coonan,
Rev. Raymond P. Messier of Athol and Petersham, Rev. John Bagley
of Grafton, Rev. Gerard Walsh of Oxford, Rev. Lee F. Bartlett of
Worcester, Rev. Chester Devlin of Northboro and Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo
In a letter yesterday to Bishop Gregory, Mr. Clohessy lauded the
work that has been done nationally by the Catholic Church to help
victims in their healing.
Sadly, however, they are already being severely undermined
by a handful of bishops who allowed their priests to sue alleged
sexual abuse victims. Today we call upon you, as president of the
U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, to stop and speak out against
these brutal legal attacks, Mr. Clohessy wrote.
He said he recognizes that false or mistaken accusations can be
made and that priests have a right to defend themselves.
Clerics suing their former parishioners is inexcusable. Simply
put, priests can defend themselves without attacking their accusers,
He called these lawsuits un-Christian and vengeful.
These hostile acts will scare victims into continued depression,
shame, self-blame and silence, thus putting children needlessly
at risk, he said. We can only hope, however, that vicious,
un-Christian legal tactics like this will backfire. In our experience,
they sometimes do. Instead of being frightened into submission by
such hateful antics, abuse victims sometimes feel even more driven
to come forward, expose their abusers and protect children. Again,
for the sake and safety of children, we in SNAP hope this proves
to be the case.