Catholic Food Assistance Director faces accusations of forcing women into sex acts
(For Immediate Release March 17, 2022)
In Worcester, Massachusetts, the food assistance director at St. John's Catholic Church, Billy Riley, was placed on administrative leave last week over accusations that he made women who utilized the food pantry trade sex for his assistance. A complaint against Riley was filed with the victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Worcester on March 11. In response, the Diocese removed Riley from his position and also stated that a third party will investigate the accusation on behalf of the Church.
The group Living in Freedom Together (LIFT), a Worcester organization that helps people leave the sex trade, said in a statement that it has been "common knowledge" for years that abuse had been going on at the food pantry. LIFT also said complaints about it had been made to St. John's leadership, including Father John Madden, in the past.
According to LIFT's statement, the Diocese responded that they "could not act" on the complaints because they contained "second and third hand" information. For the Church to willfully dismiss reports of the exploitation of women with multiple vulnerabilities can only be called evil. We challenge Bishop Robert McManus to explain why a probe into these "second and third-hand reports" was not opened earlier. We would really like to understand why Riley was only put on administrative leave last week. Surely the Diocese not only had an obligation to ensure that its food pantry was safe but also had the resources to look for those who experienced or witnessed this despicable abuse?
SNAP stands with LIFT in questioning the lack of action against Fr. Madden, as well as the efficacy of a "third-party investigation" run by the Diocese since they appear to have been ignoring this exploitation for years. We instead ask state and federal law enforcement to look into this abuse to ascertain if any crimes have been committed. We think that Catholic officials should have already reported this blatant abuse of power to the authorities, but if they did not, we do not think that there is anything to prevent the police and the Department of Justice from looking into this horrible situation independently.
We call on Diocesan leaders in Worcester to do immediate outreach to the community that utilizes the food pantry, begging anyone with information to report immediately to law enforcement without fear of retaliation. We also suggest that they alert other agencies and social service organizations in the area to these accusations, and ask them to do outreach as well. We are absolutely convinced that there have been many, many women whose needs were exploited by Riley.
We hope that any victims sitting in silence will learn that Riley has been removed from his position and find the strength and courage to come forward to law enforcement. We also hope that the Diocese of Worcester will heed the observations of Nicole Bell, the CEO of LIFT, and make their website more user-friendly for those who want to report abuse to the Church.
Finally, we exhort the Diocese to take this opportunity and at long last publish a list of those accused of abuse in Worcester. As this story demonstrates, it is not just clergy, brothers, and nuns who abuse children and adults in the Catholic community, but also lay employees and volunteers. If Catholic officials truly want to demonstrate a commitment to protecting boys, girls, men, and women, they should not only publish a list of accused clergy, brothers and nuns, but also include staff members and volunteers as well.
(SNAP, the Survivors Network, has been providing support for victims of sexual abuse in institutional settings for 30 years. We have more than 25,000 survivors and supporters in our network. Our website is www.SNAPnetwork.org)