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Conte seeks abuse case identities

Thursday, February 14, 2002

By Kathleen A. Shaw; Richard Nangle
Telegram & Gazette Staff

WORCESTER -- District Attorney John J. Conte has asked the Catholic Diocese of Worcester to turn over to him the names of all priests who have been accused in the past of sexual misconduct, as well as the names of alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests.

Mr. Conte also said yesterday he has asked the Diocese of Worcester and the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston for personnel records involving the Rev. Paul Desilets, who allegedly molested several altar boys when serving at Assumption Church in Bellingham. The district attorney's jurisdiction includes Bellingham, which is part of the Boston Archdiocese. He said the request for the priest's personnel records also was made to the Diocese of Worcester in case Rev. Desilets ever had an assignment in this region.

The district attorney said he has not been told by diocesan officials whether or not they will comply with his request. ``I expect to be hearing soon,'' he said.

Bishop Daniel P. Reilly said yesterday that he was aware of Mr. Conte's request for information. Questioned after yesterday's Ash Wednesday Mass at St. Paul's Cathedral, the bishop was clearly angry when asked about the situation, and made it clear that he believed recent Telegram & Gazette news stories about various diocesan policies and priests have been unfair to the church.

The bishop's terse comments were his first statements to news media about sexual abuse by clergy members since Cardinal Bernard F. Law of the Boston Archdiocese released to authorities the names of more than 80 priests accused of sexual abuse.

``We'll let you know when we feel like letting you know,'' he said when asked if the diocese would comply with the district attorney's request.

Bishop Reilly also was asked about the Rev. Peter Inzerillo's continued assignment to St. Leo's Church in Leominster. Rev. Inzerillo was accused of sexual abuse in a lawsuit filed in 1994, while he was assigned to St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg. The lawsuit was settled out of court.

``Why is it different from the Boston Archdiocese? Because this is the Worcester Diocese,'' the bishop answered when asked why Boston Archdiocese priests named in sexual abuse lawsuits that were settled out-of-court have been removed from active assignments, while Rev. Inzerillo remains associate priest at St. Leo's.

(A diocesan spokesman earlier told the Telegram & Gazette that the Leominster priest, who vigorously maintains his innocence, remains assigned to the parish because he has not been found guilty of such a crime. The spokesman also said he was not aware of any cases of suspected abuse by priests in the diocese that haven't already been brought to the public's attention.)

Bishop Reilly also declined to specify how much money his diocese is paying to the Rev. Thomas A. Kane, the co-founder of the former House of Affirmation in Whitinsville, who was accused of sexually abusing a 9-year-old boy, a case that was later settled out of court. Rev. Kane for the past five years has been living in Guadalajara, Mexico, serving as director of a teacher training institute.

Mr. Conte said his letter requesting the names of victims and suspects of sexual abuse was referred to Auxiliary Bishop George E. Rueger, whom he was told is the official keeper of diocesan records. Receiving only the names of the priests without the names of the alleged victims would be of no help, Mr. Conte stressed.

Cardinal Law has been criticized by district attorneys in several counties for not turning over the names of victims. Several priests whose names were given to the district attorneys are looking into suing the archdiocese for breach of confidentiality.

Mr. Conte, who successfully prosecuted some cases involving sexual misconduct by priests in the Diocese of Worcester in the 1980s and 1990s, said he is willing to go forward with criminal investigations in cases in which the statute of limitations has not expired.

The district attorney said he also is focusing attention on any allegations of sexual misconduct involving priests that were settled civilly without criminal charges.

``I want to know if these priests are still in active ministry in the diocese,'' he said.

Mr. Conte said he is working with Bellingham police and state police officers assigned to his office in investigating complaints that Rev. Desilets molested altar boys serving at his parish in Bellingham. Rev. Desilets has since gone to Canada, he said.

Joseph Fleuette III of Bellingham is one of those who has accused the priest of sexual abuse. He said he was about 11 years old when the priest began to molest him regularly.

``It always started with that same evil smile,'' Mr. Fleuette said in an interview. ``He took my faith away from me and a lot more.''

Mr. Fleuette, who said he no longer attends Mass, said that for years he believed that he alone was being molested. He said he came forward after others went public with their stories.

Mr. Conte said his investigators already have interviewed seven or eight people in connection with the investigation of Rev. Desilets, with more to come. He is also looking into extraditing the priest from Canada.

Mr. Conte has experience with international extraditions. He succeeded in bringing back to Worcester the Rev. Joseph A. Fredette, who fled to Canada after criminal warrants were issued for his arrest by Worcester police. The priest was charged with sexually molesting boys left in his care during the 1970s at a home for troubled youths in Worcester.

Rev. Fredette was tried in Worcester Superior Court and sentenced to serve a state prison sentence in 1995. A spokesman for the state Department of Correction said yesterday that Rev. Fredette served his sentence and was released in 1999.

Jeffrey Newman, a Boston lawyer representing Mr. Fleuette and several other alleged victims of Rev. Desilets, said yesterday that he has filed three civil suits against the priest in Suffolk Superior Court. The lawyer is now representing 15 people who said they were molested in some way by Rev. Desilets and has scheduled interviews with several more.

Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests