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Crime knocks at parish door
Priest's tie to murder suspect troubling quiet Cape church

By Anne Barnard, Globe Staff, 10/27/2003

FALMOUTH -- When the Rev. Bernard R. Kelly took the helm of St. Joseph's Church in Woods Hole in 1998, some parishioners found him too remote: They wanted him to be a neighborhood figure in this gray-shingled village, but he shared little of his life, spending much of his time tending thoroughbred horses at a family farm farther out on Cape Cod.

But Kelly, 70, had one friend few parishioners knew about, another newcomer to the area. Paul R. Nolin Jr., 39, was a friendly, "sharp-looking guy," recalled a clerk at John's Liquors in downtown Falmouth. Nolin came in often enough for bottles of Smirnoff vodka that the store kept them on ice for him.

Neither the young people Nolin partied with nor Falmouth police knew that he had served 18 years in prison for raping a 10-year-old boy in 1982. But one person who did know was the Rev. Donald A. Turlick, who had counseled Nolin in prison and was a close friend of Kelly's since their seminary days. Turlick says he helped Nolin find jobs in Falmouth and introduced him to Kelly, who invited the younger man to dinner parties, welcomed him to the church, and gave him work there as a handyman.

In the past month, parishioners have learned more about Kelly's private life in a way they probably never imagined.

Kelly and Turlick may face questioning before a grand jury that convenes tomorrow to investigate Nolin, who is accused of killing Jonathan Wessner, 20. The Fall River Diocese has suspended Kelly, who was questioned by investigators about his relationship with the ex-convict. And churchgoers who until now had felt untouched by the Catholic clergy sexual abuse crisis are struggling to deal with the intrusion of a scandal involving sex and murder in their small-town parish.

"How could this happen in this sweet little church, where everybody knows who's having babies and whose kids are in what school?" said Jan Kelley, 52, who has attended Mass at St. Joseph's for 12 years and teaches Catholic education there. "I was ready to say, forget it, I will never go back to Mass again. But the attitude now is you have to just be a Christian, and emphasize to your family . . . Humans make mistakes."

The parish's autumn quiet was shattered when Wessner disappeared after leaving a party Sept. 20 with Nolin, who told his lawyer he took Wessner to see the view from the church bell tower. Wessner's body was found Oct. 4, buried on a beach several blocks away. Nolin has pleaded not guilty.

Though the case does not involve child abuse, and prosecutors do not believe the priests were involved in the killing, the events have hit many of the same nerves as the clergy sexual abuse scandal that rocked the Boston Archdiocese and the Catholic church worldwide. St. Joseph's parishioners and other Falmouth residents are questioning everything from priests' accountability, to homosexuality, to the doctrine of celibacy. Many have called for an open accounting from church officials and from Kelly, who has not offered a public explanation since he was forced to leave the rectory.

"I want to hear it from him," said Glenn Kelly, a parishioner, who is not related to the priest.

The parish is also struggling to reconcile a priest's mission to reach out to the most troubled members of society with the fear the case has inspired. Even those who have vowed to wait for the investigation to reveal the truth about Kelly's actions are disturbed that he apparently helped a onetime child molester gain a foothold in the community without warning residents.

"I understand the impulse to want to help somebody get back on their feet," said Patricia Kerfoot, head of the parish council. "The disturbing part here is that the fellow had a record of a sort that you would not want to expose the children to."

Through his principal lawyer, Robert W. Nolan, Nolin has said that he was simply friends with Kelly and Turlick. But authorities believe Kelly had a sexual relationship with Nolin, according to a law enforcement source. Proving such a relationship could help prosecutors pressure Kelly to reveal what Nolin told him after Wessner's death, statements that could be protected if Nolin approached the priest for spiritual guidance, legal specialists say. But Nolan and Nolin's other lawyer, Sean Murphy, insist the conversations are confidential regardless of Nolin's "personal relationship" with Kelly.

A white-haired caretaker at Kelly's home in Cummaquid, a section of Barnstable, refused to let a reporter speak with the priest. Calling Kelly "a man I love and respect," he denounced press coverage of the case as "unconscionable." A lawyer who said he is in touch with Kelly also declined to comment.

Bishop George W. Coleman of the Fall River Diocese met with the congregation for 90 minutes Oct 9. But some parishioners called on him to reveal more. And Voice of the Faithful, a group pushing for more lay input into church administration, seized the moment to demand recognition from Coleman, who had asked diocese priests not to let the group use church facilities.

"There's no magic river that separates Fall River from Boston," said Marie Collamore of Falmouth, who is launching a Cape Cod chapter of Voice of the Faithful. "The thing in Woods Hole is opening up like a big wound."

Locals also have questions about Turlick, a priest and licensed psychologist who testified at a hearing that cleared the way for Nolin's eventual release from prison, then shepherded him into the Falmouth community. "This Father Turlick has a lot to answer for," Glenn Kelly said.

Turlick, 68, said in an interview that he believes Nolin's rehabilitation was successful, saying the ex-convict was "faithful to therapy." The priest said he helped Nolin as part of his duty to "see Christ in everyone."

"At worst, he may have been duped," said Kathleen English, Turlick's lawyer.

A soft-spoken, bearded man, Turlick said he and Kelly have been close friends since they attended St. Mary's Seminary in Baltimore in the late 1950s. Turlick was ordained in the Bridgeport Diocese in 1962 and remains a priest in good standing, said diocese spokesman Joseph McAleer.

In 1970, Turlick received permission to leave the diocese to study at Boston University. He later worked at the Massachusetts Treatment Center for the Sexually Dangerous in Bridgewater. One of his patients there was Paul Nolin.

Nolin was convicted at 17 of raping a 10-year-old boy in Lowell. In 1995, a judge transferred Nolin from the Bridgewater center, where people can be kept incarcerated even beyond their prison sentences, to Norfolk state prison, where he could be released after completing his sentence.

Though many in town blame Turlick for Nolin's transfer, the situation is more complicated. At the hearing, Turlick pledged to help Nolin return to society upon release, court records show. But his testimony did not appear pivotal in convincing Judge Charles M. Grabau that Nolin was no longer "sexually dangerous."

Grabau noted that Nancy Connolly, a psychologist and the treatment center's chairwoman, argued that Nolin harbored fantasies of assaulting a prison guard and should remain at Bridgewater. But the judge sided with four other psychologists -- not including Turlick -- who testified that Nolin's 2,200 hours of psychotherapy had worked.

After that, Turlick's role in Nolin's life became more pronounced. He visited Nolin often in prison, and after the convict's release in 2000, the priest rented him a basement apartment in his Mashpee home. Last fall, he helped Nolin find a rental house in Falmouth and several jobs.

Meanwhile, a few miles down the road in Woods Hole, St. Joseph's had the usual parish divisions over its pastor: Some liked Kelly; others didn't. He performed all the basic duties and comforted a family who lost a child abruptly. But Roland Beliveau complains that Kelly wouldn't say his mother's funeral Mass on his day off, and Parish Council leader Kerfoot said Kelly did not continue the neighborhood outreach of the previous priest.

According to English, Turlick's lawyer, before Nolin moved to Falmouth, Kelly held a birthday party for the ex-convict at his Cummaquid farm, a yellow house with white columns, black urns of begonias, and a swimming pool, surrounded by corrals for Morgan horses. After moving to Falmouth, Nolin attended St. Joseph's and occasional dinner parties with the two priests, Turlick said.

During the same period, Nolin failed to notify Falmouth police of his move, as sex offenders are required to do under state law. The Department of Correction did not notify police, either, because a backlog in the system meant Nolin's level of danger had not yet been classified. Under state law, police may circulate fliers announcing the presence of the most dangerous offenders.

In addition to his church job, Nolin worked at Cumberland Farms, directly across from the police station, and as an apprentice to a local plumber, Tom Tobey, who declined to comment. "He feels really bad," said Abby Stone, 18, a waitress at Captain Kidd's bar in Woods Hole and Tobey's friend. "But who wouldn't give the guy a chance if he had a priest on his side saying he was cured?"

A friend of Wessner's worked for Tobey, too, and on Sept. 19 the friend invited Wessner, who worked as a golf pro at the Falmouth Country Club, and two other friends to a party at Nolin's house in Falmouth. One of the friends, Jay Summers, 18, said the young men had no idea of Nolin's record. In fact, Summers said, Nolin seemed "wicked normal."

Wessner and his friends stayed at Nolin's house all night, Summers said, drinking and talking. At about 7:30 a.m., Nolin suggested a drive to Woods Hole, about 5 miles away, to see a church bell tower he had keys to. Only Wessner went. Nolin told his lawyer Nolan that he and Wessner watched the sun rise from St. Joseph's bell tower, a stone structure across the street from the church, and left in separate cars.

Authorities believe that Wessner was killed on a beach less than a mile from there, then moved 50 yards and buried under rocks. He was stabbed with a sharp weapon and hit with a blunt object.

Investigators still have questions: How did Wessner's bloodstained Jeep end up in Brockton? If Nolin drove it there, who drove him back? They hope Kelly or Turlick, who spoke to Nolin after the ex-convict was questioned by police, can shed light on Nolin's activities.

Meanwhile, St. Joseph's parishioners credit interim pastor the Rev. Joseph Mauritzen with helping them regroup.

But questions linger here, too. Jan Kelley's daughter Kacie, 16, wonders what to tell the 7-year-olds she teaches at church. Bailey Burke, 14, who received her First Communion from Kelly, initially declared that she wouldn't go back to catechism class. But she said church members persuaded her to reconsider.

"It's weird," Burke said as she watched a field hockey game at Falmouth High School, "because you're supposed to trust your priest."

John Ellement of the Globe staff contributed to this story. Anne Barnard can be reached at [email protected]

© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

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