Judge orders Worcester Diocese to Adhere to the
By Alison Fitzgerald, Associated Press - July 1999
At one point in his life, Edward Gagne wanted to be a priest. But
the Spencer, MA man now finds himself locked in a legal battle with
a diocese he once tried to join, accusing two priests of sex abuse
and accusing the Worcester Diocese officials of trying to cover
up the priests' crimes.
Cynthia Yerrick, of Augusta, ME, has also taken the church to court,
accusing the diocese of negligence because a priest allegedly sexually
abused her when she was 4 and 5 years old. Both claim the diocese
not only ignored the actions of the priests who allegedly molested
them years ago, but recently tried to cover up evidence to avoid
being found liable in the civil lawsuits.
After two hearings last month, Judge Thayer Fremont-Smith in Worcester
Superior Court said, in some instances, the church kept information
from the alleged victims and that a lawyer for the diocese tried
to prevent witnesses from answering questions. The plaintiffs have
asked the judge to decide the case in their favor because of what
they called the church's cover-up. The judge refused to do so, but
did order the diocese to pay for additional fact finding and to
repeat its search for documents.
Yerrick claimed in her lawsuit that she was molested by the Rev.
Robert Kelley in 1968 when she was 4 and 5 years old. She said she
suppressed any memory of the abuse until December 1993, when she
entered counseling. Kelley was convicted in 1990 of molesting another
young girl in the 1980's. Yerrick's lawyer accused the diocese of
hiding a report in which Kelley said "yes" to a question
about whether he had behaved with women "in such a way as to
cause scandal, criticism or suspicion."
"That statement on its own is not sufficient to take a case
to jury. For the purposes of someone who is an applicant to a seminary,
kissing a girl in public would be enough to cause scandal and criticism,"
said Joanne Goulka, a lawyer for the diocese. "There are so
many ways that someone can cause scandal, criticism and suspicion
that don't come close to acts of sexual abuse against minors."
Judge Fremont-Smith said Yerrick doesn't have much evidence to
support her claim. But he agreed that the diocese was wrong not
to disclose the report, and ordered the church to search for any
more documents and pay for Yerrick's lawyer to take new depositions
from all her witnesses.
He called the action "a serious and culpable noncompliance"
with laws of evidence. Gagne said he was molested in 1978, when
he was 13, by the Rev. Brendan O'Donoghue, a priest at the Our Lady
of Rosary Church in Spencer. He said his parents had meetings with
Worcester Bishop Timothy Harrington to tell him of the assaults
and that they gave the bishop letters the priest had written the
Twelve years later, Gagne said, he was preparing to enter the seminary
when another priest, this time his counselor, coerced him into having
sex. Gagne's lawyers said church officials failed to produce the
letters and the church failed to tell them about other accusations
against O'Donoghue. Harrington said he didn't remember the meeting
with Gagne's mother or the letters.
Judge Fremont-Smith ruled that the diocese did not violate any
laws of evidence. But he said in his ruling that evidence revealed
at the hearing suggests "diocesan officials and/or their counsel
may have engaged, in this and in other cases, in a 'cover-up'."
The judge also said one of the church's lawyers, James Reardon
of Worcester, tried to prevent witnesses from answering questions
by disrupting depositions. He barred Reardon from being present
at any more depositions. Fremont-Smith also said the evidence he
has seen showed that the church "for decades, failed to take
appropriate action to remove from the priesthood known sexual predators."