Vatican Decides Not to Defrock Retired Monsignor Battista
By Kathleen A. Shaw TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
Mar 10, 2006
WORCESTER The Vatican has decided against defrocking Monsignor
Leo J. Battista, who surrendered his clinical social workers
license in 1991 after admitting that he had sexual relations with
a client when he was her therapist.
The Vatican recently told Bishop Robert J. McManus that Monsignor
Battista is permanently barred from ministry and cannot present
himself as a priest, Raymond L. Delisle, diocesan spokesman, said
yesterday. Monsignor Battista, 83, is retired and listed in the
official diocesan directory as living at Southgate in Shrewsbury.
His last parish assignment was pastor of St. Anna parish, Leominster.
The Holy See, through the Congregation for the Doctrine of
the Faith, has reviewed the case of Rev. Monsignor Leo J. Battista,
and has recently informed Most Rev. Robert J. McManus, Bishop of
Worcester, that Monsignor Battista is to be permanently prohibited
from any type of priestly ministry and may not present himself as
a priest. He is to spend his remaining days in prayer and penance,
Mr. Delisle said after speaking with the bishop.
Mr. Delisle said the Vatican action did not result in defrocking
Retired Bishop Daniel P. Reilly testified in an April 2004 deposition,
when he was still bishop in Worcester, that the diocese was seeking
laicization defrocking of Monsignor Battista and that
he started the process at the request of one of the monsignors
Monsignor Battista, who was a licensed social worker and former
head of Catholic Charities for the diocese, signed a three-page
consent agreement with the state Board of Registration of Social
Workers in 1991 and admitted that he had an improper sexual relationship
with a client.
A former Sister of St. Joseph, Nancy Norbert, filed a civil suit
against the diocese stating she had been sexually assaulted by the
monsignor during the 1970s and 1980s when she entered a counseling
arrangement with him. Donna M. Spencer, a former Sister of Mercy,
said in a 1993 interview with the Telegram & Gazette that she
also had an improper sexual relationship with Monsignor Battista.
She said he had been acting as spiritual adviser and counselor when
she was a young nun in the order.
Mr. Delisle said Bishop McManus told him that other laicization
cases involving diocesan priests are pending, but he declined to
state who they were.
Cases have been sent to Rome for their review. We cannot
speculate on what Romes determinations will be or their recommendations
on each priests clerical state. We are waiting for further
direction or notice on each case, Mr. Delisle said.
A bishop has authority to remove a priest from service but only
the Vatican, with approval of the pope, can laicize a priest. Some
priests voluntarily seek laicization for various reasons, including
a desire to marry. Others are removed involuntarily because of misconduct.
George Skip Shea of Uxbridge said this week that he
had formally applied to Bishop McManus to begin laicization proceedings
against the Rev. Thomas H. Teczar and the Rev. Robert Shauris, whom
he said sexually abused him as a teenager. Mr. Shea received $10,000
from the diocese about two years ago to settle his lawsuit alleging
sexual abuse by the two men.
An artist, Mr. Shea has a one-man show called Catholic (Surviving
Abuse and Other Dead End Roads) which he recently presented
in New York City and in the Boston area. Mr. Shea, who has said
he is generally pleased with the response he has gotten from Bishop
McManus when he met with him regarding his alleged abuse, said he
contacted the chancery about starting laicization proceedings against
the priests, and he was told he needed to make a formal request.
He sent the formal request this week to the bishop.
Records of the Telegram & Gazette and records assembled by
Waltham-based Bishop Accountability, an organization of Catholics
who are archiving the sexual abuse scandal throughout the United
States, and a count by Worcester Voice, which tracks clergy sexual
abuse in the Worcester Diocese, shows a total of 23 living diocesan
priests who are retired or on administrative leave after being publicly
accused of sexual misconduct. That count does not include accused
priests who are members of religious orders.
Two of the 23 priests, the Rev. David A. Holley and the Rev. Robert
E. Kelley, are in prison after being convicted of sexual abuse of
The Rev. Joseph A. Coonan has not resigned his position as pastor
of St. John Church, Worcester, but is on administrative leave from
the diocese after several men alleged misconduct when he was teaching
and counseling in Oxford. Last week, he was charged with assaulting
his elderly mother and his sister at their home in Oxford, and he
was arraigned in Dudley District Court.
Diocesan priests are eligible to receive financial help from the
diocese as required under the churchs canon law. The diocese
does not have to support or subsidize priests who are laicized and
are no longer priests.
The diocese said in a 2003 report to the American bishops
National Review Board that it knew of 45 priests who were the subject
of credible allegations of sexual misconduct from 1950 to 2003.
Mr. Delisle said the diocese has declined to say how much money
the accused priests are receiving, but he said the amount is in
part recorded as a lump sum in the diocesan financial report
under the priests financial assistance fund.
Under that fund, the diocese paid $340,562 in fiscal 2005; $349,457
in fiscal 2004; and $270,000 in fiscal 2003. Mr. Delisle said some
of this money also would go to priests on leave for reasons other
than misconduct. Priests placed on leave can receive medical insurance
through the diocese. In the 2004 deposition, Bishop Reilly testified
that Rev. Teczar was receiving $554 a month from the diocese, along
with medical insurance.
The situation for each priest on leave is evaluated in light
of our canonical responsibility to not abandon them. Each case is
dependent upon its needs and in keeping with those canonical responsibilities,
Mr. Delisle said.
No priests in the Worcester Diocese accused of sexual misconduct
have been laicized. While laicization is the term used in the Catholic
church, it means the same as defrocking.
Bishop Michael J. Cote of the Norwich, Conn., Diocese confirmed
this week that he received word that Pope Benedict XVI had laicized
Bernard W. Bissonette, who allegedly abused the late Thomas Deary
when he was assigned to St. Mary parish in Putnam. The defrocking
of Mr. Bissonette, who was last known to be living in New Mexico,
was done by request of Gene Michael Deary, brother of Mr. Deary,
and his family. Bishop Cote made the presentation personally to
the Vatican on why Mr. Bissonette should be laicized.