Misconduct By Priests is Alleged - Diocese Lacked
Rules for Sex Abuse Cases
By Dianne Williamson
May 19, 1996 - Worcester Telegram - Dianne Williamson
Edward L. Gagne always wanted to be a priest, His lawyer said
he would have been a wonderful shepherd, "He's what I think
about when I think of what a priest should be," said attorney
Stephen J, Lyons. "He's the most thoughtful, kind and generous
person I've ever met. I couldn't help but think, while he was giving
his deposition, of what a great priest he would have made."
Gagne never became a priest. Instead he alleges he became a victim
of priests, and of church leaders who repeatedly ignored and covered
up their sins. Documents connected to a civil law suit making its
way through the legal system offer disturbing new evidence to bolster
long-held suspicions that leaders of the Roman Catholic Diocese
of Worcester, from the late Bishop John J. Wright in the 1950s to
retired Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, were aware that a significant
number of their priests were being accused of sexual misconduct,
and yet they failed to protect children from them.
In a deposition he gave Dec. 12, one containing contradictions
and discrepancies, Bishop Harrington acknowledged that he had received
some 30 complaints of sexual abuse -- involving about 20 priests
that had occurred before 1983, the year he became bishop.
Asked by Gagne's lawyer if he did anything to ensure that these
priests had no unsupervised contact with children, Harrington responded,
"I took them from active ministry when -- when they admitted
their misbehavior (italics are mine), or when -- let me see
what other reasons I'd say -- or their -- their case became public."
"Did you personally ever discourage a victim or a victim's
family from telling anyone about the allegations that they had made
about a priest?" Harrington was asked. "I might have said
to some people, 'Listen, you can do as you please, but usually in
matters like this everybody gets hurt. It's like a divorce, everybody
Some get hurt more than others, though Gagne, now a 33-year-old
staffer for the City Manager's Executive Office of Employment and
Training, claims he was sexually assaulted as a 13-year-old altar
boy by the Rev. Brendan O'Donoghue, who lured him into the rectory
to count the proceeds of collections from Mass. Years later, Gagne
said, after relating the trauma to a priest helping him prepare
for the seminary, he was assaulted by that priest, the Rev. Peter
J, Inzerillo. He is suing O'Donoghue, Inzerillo, Harrington, retired
Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan and the Diocese of Worcester. A motion
by the diocese to dismiss the lawsuit will be heard June 7 in Worcester
As part of pretrial preparation, Gagne's lawyer took lengthy depositions
from the defendants. While Inzerillo and O'Donoghue denied the charges
(although O'Donoghue did admit that he fondled Gagne's chest and
was sexually tempted by the youth), their own words serve to confirm
that the diocese, rather than address the problem of pedophilia
by its clergy, simply transferred troubled priests from parish to
In his first 15 years in the diocese, for example, O'Donoghue was
re-assigned 12 times. During that time -- and before he allegedly
assaulted Gagne -- O'Donoghue was notified by diocese officials
of at least two separate complaints that he had sexually abused
a child within his parish.
In 1954, while assigned to St. Brigid's church in Millbury, then-Bishop
Wright told O'Donoghue that he had been accused of inappropriate
sexual contact with a child in a car. "He asked me that I spend
some time at the monastery in Spencer (at) St. Joseph's Abbey,"
O'Donoghue recalled in his deposition. "I was just to spend
some time in prayer out there and make a confession." He was
then transferred to another parish.
In July of 1978, when Gagne was 13, O'Donoghue lured him into a
bedroom at the rectory of Our Lady of the Rosary in Spencer, where
he pushed him on the bed, unbuckled his pants, fondled Gagne's penis
and forced the boy to masturbate him, according to Gagne. He then
told Gagne not to tell or he'd remove him as an altar boy.
In December of that year, Gagne and his parents met with then-Bishop
Bernard J, Flanagan and told him what had happened. They also gave
Flanagan letters that O'Donoghue had written to Gagne. Flanagan
reportedly told the boy not to tell anyone. No counseling or other
assistance was offered. After that meeting, O'Donoghue was directed
by Flanagan and Harrington, then involved in the transfer of priests,
to spend time at the House of Affirmation. A treatment facility
for priests, including those who molested young boys, the house
was closed in 1989, two years after it was rocked by allegations
of gross mismanagement and financial improprieties, O'Donoghue spent
three days at the facility, and was later transferred to a parish
in Southboro). (The founder of the House of Affirmation, the Rev.
Thomas Kane, was himself the focus of a lawsuit filed in 1993 by
an Uxbridge man who claims Kane sexually assaulted him when he was
Harrington's deposition is rife with contradiction about the extent
of his knowledge of sexual abuse accusations made against priests.
First he said he did transfer such priests. Then he said he didn't.
He waffled repeatedly about when complaints came to his attention,
and what he did about them. At one point, Harrington discussed a
meeting he held in the early 1990s with diocesan priests to address
the issue of sexual misconduct. Asked why he held the meeting, he
replied, "Because of the rash of publicity that these were
receiving in the local and national news."
Lyons, Gagne's lawyer, asked if there was any other reason. "Well,
certainly I called it to -- how do I put it -- to stop what I thought
was a -- was a -- to try and stop what I thought was a -- a serious
evil." Lyons: "When was it that you came to the conclusion,
for the first time, that something needed to be done about this
serious evil?" Harrington: "I think I always felt something
needed to be done about this serious evil ..." Lyons: "It's
a problem that has plagued the diocese -- all dioceses, but the
Diocese of Worcester insofar as your experience is concerned, for
a long time, isn't it?"
Harrington: "I don't know why you are singling us out."
Flanagan testified in his deposition that, while he was bishop from
1959 through 1983, there were no formalized procedures for dealing
with ... allegations of sexual misconduct by priests."Harrington,
bishop from 1983 to 1994, said the same thing.
His deposition is 124 pages. The pages are a sad testament of betrayal
-- betrayal of victims, of church doctrine, and of the large number
of good and dedicated priests who are unfairly tainted by a legacy
of sexual misconduct. Lyons believes it's important for such issues
to be made public, because only the weight of public scrutiny prompts
significant change in large institutions such as the Catholic Church.
A diocesan spokesman declined last week to comment on the lawsuit,
as did a diocesan lawyer. Inzerillo and Kane are on administrative
leave and do not live in the area. O'Donoghue is retired and lives
in Shrewsbury. "I don't think the church intentionally endangered
anyone," Lyons said. "But for decades, it was in denial
about this problem. The denial endangered children and allowed sexual
predators to run loose and unchecked.
"I represent a young man who will carry the scars of this
abuse for the rest of his life," Lyons said. "This young
man has to have his day in court, and the church has to be held
accountable." Gagne eventually entered the seminary, but never
completed his studies. Today, he conducts a church choir and attends
Mass, but he no longer receives the sacraments. He is among the
many victims of priestly sins whose pain runs as deep as their faith.
"Stripped of his respect of church elders, he still looks for
a way to praise God," Lyons said. "This really is a tragedy
in so many ways."