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New sexual abuse lawsuits filed against Worcester diocesan priests

By Kathleen A. Shaw, Worcester Telegram & Gazette
Thursday, December 30, 2004

WORCESTER— New civil lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by six priests of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, three of whom have not been accused previously in legal action, were filed Tuesday in Worcester Superior Court.

The suits name the Rev. John J. Bagley, former diocesan chancellor, who was removed in 2002 by former Bishop Daniel P. Reilly after another allegation was made; the Rev. Raymond P. Messier and the Rev. Henry S. Banach, who have civil suits involving other allegations pending against them; the Rev. Leo J. O’Neil, who is now retired; and the Rev. Bernard R. Reilley and Monsignor Michael L. Carney, both of whom are deceased. The suits were filed by Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso.

The suits list the following allegations:

Rev. John J. Bagley, now of Hyannis, allegedly assaulted a male victim in 1963 when he was assigned to Christ the King parish in Worcester. The alleged victim was about 15 at the time.

Rev. Bagley was pastor of St. Mary’s Church in North Grafton when he was removed from ministry in 2002 by Bishop Reilly after the bishop received another allegation of sexual abuse involving an underage youth who said he was sexually assaulted in 1967 at Christ the King parish.

Rev. Leo J. O’Neil, now retired, was assigned to St. Joseph Church in Barre in 1975 when he allegedly sexually abused a 14-year-old boy, then an orphan living at the Stetson Home for Boys in the same town.

Monsignor Michael L. Carney, who died in 1981, was assigned to St. Andrew the Apostle Church in Worcester in 1977 and 1978 when he allegedly sexually abused a 15-year-old boy.

Rev. Bernard R. Reilley, who died in 1990, allegedly sexually assaulted a girl in Worcester. A woman alleges she was sexually assaulted by Rev. Reilley in her Worcester home starting in 1952 when she was about 2 and continuing until about 1958.

Rev. Henry S. Banach allegedly abused a boy age 12 or 13 in 1976 and 1977 when he was assigned to St. Hedwig parish in Southbridge. He is retired and living in Worcester. He has been accused of sexual abuse by three other men in a pending civil suit.

Rev. Raymond P. Messier allegedly abused a boy about age 12 in 1976 and 1977 when he was serving at St. Joan of Arc parish in Worcester. The alleged assault happened at the priest’s Charlton home.

Rev. Messier was pastor of St. Francis of Assisi parish in Athol and St. Peter’s parish in Petersham when he was removed from ministry in 2002 by Bishop Reilly after another allegation was made. He is now living in Charlton. He has been accused by three other men in a pending civil suit.

The filing of these suits comes at a time when lawyers for alleged victims and the Worcester Diocese have been working to settle suits that were filed in 2002 and 2003.

James Gavin Reardon, lawyer for the Worcester Diocese, said he has not seen the new lawsuits and cannot comment. He added, however, that the new allegations will be turned over to the office of District Attorney John J. Conte.

Mr. Reardon said Mr. Durso frequently releases his lawsuits to the media before they are received by the diocese, which makes it difficult for the diocese to comment. He said that the lawsuits will be “answered in due course” within the courts.

Mr. Durso said he is filing these suits before the end of the year to protect the legal rights of his clients under the statute of limitations laws of the state. The lawsuits all state the alleged victims did not make the connection between past abuse and difficulties in their lives until about 2002.

He said had the diocese chosen to sit down and settle the suits out of court, further legal action might not have been necessary. “We could have had mediation talks,” he said.

Mr. Durso has been critical of the diocese for failing to hold settlement talks on the pending lawsuits and said the diocese’s settlement figures, which range from $3,000 to $7,500, are the lowest being offered in the United States and the world. The diocese has said the suits they have offered to settle for these sums lack merit.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests