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Letters Show Worcester Diocese Wanted Rev. Holley Out

Personal letters detailing priest's situation obtained by T&G

Monday, September 20, 2004
Kathleen A. Shaw - Telegram & Gazette STAFF

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WORCESTER, MA - Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan in 1971 decided that one reason the Rev. David A. Holley should go into the care of Servants of the Paraclete in New Mexico or some other location operated by the order was because they would be able to find a placement for him after he completed treatment, the bishop said in a letter written at the time.

Rev. David Holley, at his 1993 prison sentencing in New Mexico.
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Priest Said Parole Terms Were "Oppressive"

Rev. Holley, denied parole last week, is now serving a 55- to 275-year prison sentence in New Mexico for sexually abusing and raping eight boys there.

Although Rev. Holley was taken in as a priest of the Worcester Diocese in 1962 and incardinated in 1967, which means he became a priest of the diocese, he proved to be problematic because of his history of sexually molesting boys. Bishop Flanagan and Auxiliary Bishop Timothy J. Harrington clearly did not want him back in the diocese although no move was made to remove him permanently from the priesthood, the letters show.

His relationship with the Worcester Diocese is detailed in the series of personal letters obtained by the Telegram & Gazette.

Bishop Flanagan in a March 15, 1971, letter to Rev. Holley, who was then in Pittsburgh, said he discussed the situation with Bishop Harrington and they agreed to suggest that Rev. Holley go to "one of the houses of the Paraclete Fathers - either Via Coeli in New Mexico or one of their other hospices. They now have some professionally directed programs of therapy, so that you could continue whatever treatment is indicated.

Boston resident Phil Saviano, founder of the New England chapter of SNAP
Phil Saviano in Boston, 2002

"Also, by reason of their many contacts with bishops who are in need of priests, they are able to find openings for their guests after a reasonable period of time," he wrote.

Phil Saviano, now a Boston area resident, released to the Telegram & Gazette a series of letters he obtained during his civil suit against the Worcester Diocese in which he alleged sexual abuse by Rev. Holley.

Mr. Saviano was a member of St. Denis parish, East Douglas, during the 1960s when he alleged he was sexually abused by Rev. Holley. The Worcester Diocese offered him about $15,000 to settle his suit, but he refused to sign a confidentiality agreement and took about $12,000 instead.

Bishop Harrington in 1970 told a psychiatrist at the Seton Psychiatric Institute where Rev. Holley was receiving treatment, "People have been so greatly disturbed by his behavior that we would wonder whether he can avoid his reputation going before him in any area of this compact diocese." The bishop, who was a licensed social worker, also questioned where the diocese could "chance the possibility of his having another relapse."

Yet an Oct. 5, 1987, letter to Rev. Holley from the Rev. Lawrence St. Peter, an official of the Denver archdiocese, said, "I have contacted your Bishop, Bishop Timothy J. Harrington of Worcester, Massachusetts, and he assures me that you are a priest in good standing and that he has given you permission to be a Chaplain at St. Anthony Hospital Central, Denver."

Bishop Flanagan attempted in 1971 to get him transferred to the Wilmington, Del., Diocese while Rev. Holley was being treated at the Seton Institute. Bishop Thomas J. Mardaga of Wilmington told Bishop Flanagan that request was denied.

"Despite the unfavorable decision in this particular case, I trust that you will realize that we are still sympathetic to requests regarding the placement of priests who have experienced difficulties in their own communities," Bishop Mardaga said. "Regrettably, Father Holley's case presented a greater problem than we could handle, at least with the present prognosis," he said.

Bishop Flanagan in a Feb. 11, 1971, letter to Bishop Mardaga, said he did not believe Rev. Holley should continue ministry in Worcester after treatment at Seton Institute for what the bishops called "a homo-sexual problem." He told the Wilmington bishop that there had been "at least two incidents" involving Rev. Holley but "they did not evoke wide public scandal" but did become known to several priests and lay people.

"In this very compact diocese, it is practically impossible to transfer a priest to a place where his previous history is not known - at least by the priests of the diocese," he said.

Rev. A. Dixon Hartford of St. Raphael parish in El Paso, Texas, informed Bishop Sidney M. Metzer of the El Paso Diocese in an April 27, 1976, letter that he had to immediately terminate Rev. Holley's assignment in that parish.

"Of course, Father was deeply humiliated and mortified and very apologetic," he said. Rev. Hartford said he would have Rev. Holley's things "packed and shipped to wherever he wished."

However, Rev. Hartford proposed that Rev. Holley be transferred to another parish in Texas and that he would work with him on what he called "reality therapy." Rev. Hartford said Rev. Holley had many talents but "his problem must be faced up to. He cannot let this problem ruin the rest of his life."

Rev. Holley was accepted into the San Angelo, Texas, Diocese, where he served several years until Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza informed Bishop Harrington in a May 25, 1984, letter that "on a few occasions his past problems surfaced." He told Bishop Harrington that he had earlier informed Bishop Flanagan in 1982 that he would give Rev. Holley "one more chance."

"It is with great regret that I write now to say that Father Holley has made it impossible for us to keep him in this diocese," he said.

Rev. Holley contacted the Worcester Diocese in 1992 and requested that they cover health and dental insurance. Rev. Rocco Piccolomini, vicar for priests, said his request was being considered. Rev. Piccolomini said in the "charity of the Lord" the diocese accepted his need for money and sent him $500.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests