“A Catholic priest named in one of the Worcester Diocese’s largest sex-abuse settlements has been laicized, or defrocked, the diocese announced Thursday.
Peter J. Inzerillo, at his own request, was “dispensed from the clerical state” by Pope Francis, the diocese said. As a result, Mr. Inzerillo “may not function in any capacity as a priest or be referred to as a priest or as ‘Father.’ ”
The former Rev. Inzerillo was headmaster at St. Peter-Marian High School in Worcester from 1979 to 1985 and coached hockey there and at St. Bernard’s in Fitchburg.
He was vocations director for the Worcester Diocese in 1985 when he allegedly sexually assaulted a 19-year-old from Spencer who was considering entering the seminary.
The younger man, Edward Gagne, said he disclosed during counseling sessions with the vocations director that he had been abused before, as a 13-year-old altar boy, by another priest – and he alleged that Rev. Inzerillo then abused him in turn.
Mr. Gagne filed a civil suit against the diocese in 1999 and was awarded a settlement of $300,000. The diocese then reassigned Rev. Inzerillo to St. Leo’s Church in Leominster.
It was not until three years later, in 2002, that then-Bishop Daniel P. Reilly removed Rev. Inzerillo from ministry “for the good of the parish,” according to the T&G. “Mr. Inzerillo has not had faculties for priestly ministry since that time,” the diocese said.
Mr. Inzerillo, now 74, a graduate of the former Barre High School, was ordained a priest in 1970 and served as associate pastor at St. Anna’s in Leominster and as pastor at St. Anthony of Padua in Fitchburg, as well as assistant pastor at St. Leo’s in Leominster.
In Thursday’s announcement, Bishop Robert J. McManus said: “It is my fervent prayer that Christ may bring healing and hope to anyone who has been abused by a priest or by anyone in the Catholic Church.” He encouraged anyone who has suffered clerical abuse to contact the diocese’s victims assistance coordinator in the Office of Healing and Prevention.”
The decision comes after at least 22 years of complaints and suspensions of the Priest.
“The Diocese of Worcester continues to support a number of priests placed on leave because of sexual misconduct allegations, including the Rev. Thomas A. Kane, director of the former House of Affirmation, who was fired amid fiscal irregularities at the Whitinsville facility.
Bishop Robert J. McManus said in a statement Friday that the diocese is reviewing its policies on support for priests on leave because of sexual abuse allegations, but said canon law requires the diocese to continue support to priests who need help.
Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, former head of the Worcester Diocese, said in a deposition and under questioning from lawyer Tahira Khan Merritt of Dallas that the money comes from the priest assistance fund. The priests are entitled by canon law to money to meet their needs, including medical insurance, he said. He did not say exactly how many priests are receiving money; Bishop Reilly reported in February that 45 priests have been accused of misconduct since 1950, although some have since died.
The diocesan records for fiscal 2003 show more than $270,000 in the priest assistance fund. Bishop Reilly said this money does not go to retired priests, who are in a separate fund.
Raymond L. Delisle, spokesman for the diocese, said the money in the priest assistance fund is also used for other things besides accused priests.
He said priests in good standing with the church can be helped through that fund, when they are on leave because of health or other personal circumstances unrelated to allegations of misconduct. The financial help each priest gets is decided on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Bishop Reilly testified at a deposition that started in April and concluded in September involving a lawsuit filed in Texas by two men who alleged they were sexually abused by the Rev. Thomas H. Teczar in that state when they were teenagers.
Rev. Teczar was removed from priestly service in Worcester after allegations arose here, but found a new placement in 1988 in the Fort Worth (Texas) Diocese. He returned to Massachusetts in 1993 after the allegations of sexual misconduct arose there.
Ms. Merritt asked the bishop where Rev. Kane is now. “I am not quite sure where he is. I would have to check the file. He has been in different places, but I am not sure where he is now.” The depositions indicated that Rev. Teczar had been sent to the House of Affirmation for treatment after allegations arose in the Worcester Diocese.
Rev. Kane was ousted from his position as director of the House of Affirmation in 1987 after 11 executives complained that he siphoned off money from the agency to support and increase his own extensive real estate holdings. The case was closed when he was removed, and he paid back an amount of money to the house. The amount was never disclosed.
Bishop Reilly told Ms. Merritt, who represents one alleged victim, that Rev. Teczar, although he cannot function as a priest, receives $554 a month plus medical insurance. Bishop Reilly said he sees no reason to defrock Rev. Teczar. “I don’t see the big difference that that makes,” he said.
“He is free, he is not in prison?” Ms. Merritt asked, to which the bishop replied “Yes.”
“So he could still be molesting children today, couldn’t he?” she said.
“Yes,” the bishop replied. He added that Rev. Teczar could be molesting minors whether or not he was defrocked.
“Well, but you wouldn’t have any more responsibility for him, would you, economically and ecclesiastically?”
“Right,” the bishop answered.
Bishop Reilly said the diocese has only attempted to defrock one priest, Monsignor Leo J. Battista. Monsignor Battista, a former director of Catholic Charities, was removed from ministry and is now retired after an allegation surfaced against him in a civil suit in the early 1990s.
The bishop said he sent that case to Rome for action. Asked why he chose Monsignor Battista and none of the others, he replied, “Because the case was so strong and it was really something that this woman felt was necessary for her to achieve her fullness as a person again.”
The diocese produced computer records showing that it paid Rev. Teczar a total of $27,101 from January 2000 to April. The money was “something to help him live his daily life, and that is something we have to do according to canon law,” the bishop said. Ms. Merritt asked how much he had paid to the two alleged victims, John Doe I and John Doe II, in the Texas lawsuit and he said he couldn’t answer. Ms. Merritt represents the man identified as John Doe II while Daniel J. Shea of Houston represents John Doe I.
Bishop McManus, who succeeded Bishop Reilly as Worcester bishop in May, said the diocese in conjunction with the Diocesan Review Board is conducting a final review of a new policy for liaison to those on leave because of allegations of sexual misconduct “and other issues related to their leave.”
Bishop McManus said as long as priests continue to have canonical rights as priests and while they are awaiting a church resolution to their situation, the diocese is obliged by Canon 281 of the church’s canon law to provide financial help. Canon law states this remuneration “should enable them to provide for the needs of their own life and for the equitable payment of those whose services they need,” the bishop said.
He added, the “provision is likewise to be made so that they possess that social assistance by which their needs are suitably provided for if they suffer from illness, incapacity or old age.
“As part of this policy review, procedures are being discussed which will respect the rights of those in need while assuring the diocese’s continued ability to direct donations to their intended use, namely, support the mission of the church,” Bishop McManus said.
“The status of individual cases of support, including that of Father Kane, changes from time to time due to changes in their individual circumstances, and will be reviewed to assure that a demonstrated need justified continuing financial support,” Bishop McManus said.
Auxiliary Bishop George E. Rueger, who told lawyers in his April deposition that he expects to retire soon, said that Bishop Reilly about six months earlier appointed four priests to act as “monitors” of the priests who were removed for sexual misconduct allegations. He named Monsignor Thomas J. Sullivan, the chancellor and liaison to District Attorney John J. Conte; Monsignor F. Stephen Pedone, the judical vicar; and the Rev. Rocco Piccolomini, vicar for priests, but could not recall the name of the fourth monitor.
Bishop Reilly said the diocese is not monitoring Rev. Teczar, who lives in Dudley, and said he is “pretty much on his own.” He added this is “pretty much a concern. It would be the same thing if he was laicized.”
Bishop Reilly revealed that the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo, who was placed into St. Leo’s Parish, Leominster, after a suit had been settled naming him and the Rev. Brendan O’Donoghue as perpetrators of sexual misconduct, was not removed from the parish in 2002 because of any pressure from the parish. He said he was removed because another separate allegation not connected with the settled lawsuit came to his attention.
Bishop Reilly said the issue of Rev. Inzerillo being named in that lawsuit was complicated because no proof was presented to show that Rev. Inzerillo had done anything wrong. He said the priest was named in the settlement “because the opposite side wanted his name included in the settlement.”
“So it was one of those things where it is not very clear that you are putting somebody who is guilty of a crime back into the parish,” he said.
“He was removed from the parish because an allegation came in that I thought had credence,” he said.”
“The Rev. Peter Inzerillo, who was named in a sexual abuse lawsuit settled three years ago for $300,000, has been placed on administrative leave from his assignment as associate pastor of St. Leo Church in Leominster.
The decision was made jointly by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly and Rev. Inzerillo, according to Raymond L. Delisle, spokesman for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester.
Mr. Delisle said the two decided that “it would make sense for the good of the parish that he step back out.”
In an interview on March 16, Bishop Reilly insisted that keeping Rev. Inzerillo assigned to St. Leo did not violate the diocese’s policy of zero tolerance toward priests accused of sexual abuse. The action yesterday brings to four the number of priests removed from their posts in recent weeks because of allegations of sexual abuse.
The Rev. John J. Bagley was removed from St. Mary’s parish in North Grafton; the Rev. Lee F. Bartlett was removed two weeks ago from the Sacred Heart Parish in Worcester; and the Rev. Gerard P. Walsh, a chaplain of the Massachusetts State Police, was removed from that position and his assignment at St. Roch’s Church in Oxford.
The charges against Rev. Inzerillo and the three others are beyond the statute of limitations for prosecution, which is 15 years for rape and six years for indecent assault and battery.
In 1994, Edward Gagne of Spencer sued the diocese, the Rev. Brendan O’Donoghue and Rev. Inzerillo. Mr. Gagne maintained in the suit that Rev. O’Donoghue sexually assaulted him when he was 13 and that Rev. Inzerillo sexually assaulted him six years later.
Mr. Gagne, a planner in the City Manager’s Office of Employment and Training, said yesterday that Bishop Reilly should never have assigned Rev. Inzerillo to St. Leo.
“The diocese has always known what the appropriate thing is to do. I’m saddened that it’s taken this long,” he said.
He also complained that Bishop Reilly failed to talk with him, as well as with St. Leo parishioners and parents of students attending St. Leo School, after concerns arose about Rev. Inzerillo.
“I think it shows grave ignorance on his part and a lack of respect for his own flock,” Mr. Gagne said.
In his lawsuit, Mr. Gagne said he met Rev. Inzerillo, then the vocation director for the diocese, after deciding that he wanted to enter the seminary. He said he told Rev. Inzerillo that he had been abused six years earlier by another priest in the Worcester diocese, whereupon Rev. Inzerillo offered to counsel him.
He claimed that during counseling sessions in 1985 and 1986 at the St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg, Rev. Inzerillo blamed him for the earlier abuse and then sexually abused him.
In an answer to the lawsuit, Rev. Inzerillo categorically denied every charge made against him by Mr. Gagne and said he met with him just twice. Rev. Inzerillo could not be reached for comment yesterday and has not returned calls by reporters in recent weeks.
Mr. Gagne said Rev. Inzerillo introduced into the counseling discussions talk of male bonding and male affection. He said Rev. Inzerillo initiated hugs that lasted as long as 15 to 20 minutes, and told him that homosexual thoughts were natural. He said the priest also asked him if he was gay.
During one of those hugging sessions, Mr. Gagne said in a deposition, “he dropped his hands to my buttocks area and he squeezed my buttocks and then he pulled me closer to him and then I felt his erection push against me. And then he got my hand, and he placed it down in his groin area, and I pulled my hand away. And he stopped and the session ended.”
Answering earlier queries about Rev. Inzerillo, Mr. Delisle noted that the priest had never been found guilty of sexual abuse and also pointed out that, at age 19, Mr. Gagne was an adult when the incident allegedly took place.
Bishop Reilly assumed control of the Worcester diocese in 1994, after Mr. Gagne filed his lawsuit. He assigned Rev. Inzerillo to St. Leo in late 2000, more than a year after the lawsuit was settled in a confidential agreement that was not released to the public.
In recent weeks, some parents of children who attend St. Leo Elementary School raised concern over a retreat for eighth-graders that was held last summer in Whitinsville. The parents said they were told by their children that Rev. Inzerillo gave a “sex talk,” in which he told them that males are sexually aroused quickly because their genitals are outside their bodies, while females are slow to arousal because their genitals are internal.
Last week, Mr. Delisle said the diocese and the Catholic School Department, along with the principal of the school and pastor of the parish, had been speaking with parents and parishioners concerning their questions about Rev. Inzerillo.
“It has been confirmed that all contact with children at the school has been in public or adult-supervised capacities, and that no details of specific wrongdoings are being presented,” Mr. Delisle said in a statement last week. “In general, the concern has been with having an associate pastor who has been involved in an allegation of wrongdoing against an adult, even though no liability was identified on anyone’s part in that case’s settlement.
“Bishop Reilly has been monitoring this, and as soon as he has completed his investigation, he will announce his findings,” Mr. Delisle said.
Before the time that Mr. Gagne alleged he was sexually abused, Rev. Inzerillo was accused of making an improper sexual remark to another candidate for the priesthood.
The accuser, Christopher Therrien, was summoned to a meeting with Rev. Inzerillo, Monsignor Edmond T. Tinsley and Rev. Rocco Piccolomini, director of priest personnel. Mr. Therrien repeated the accusation, and Rev. Inzerillo denied it.
And Rev. Steven M. LaBaire of St. Luke the Evangelist parish in Westboro said in a deposition in the Gagne case that he was approached by another man who claimed Rev. Inzerillo groped him and pressed his pelvis against him. ”
“A Superior Court judge has rejected a Fitchburg priest’s argument that a civil suit against him alleging indecent sexual assault is barred, as a matter of law, by the statute of limitations.
In a decision issued Monday, Judge Allan van Gestel denied the Rev. Peter J. Inzerillo’s motion for summary judgment in a suit brought against Inzerillo, the Rev. Brendan O’Donoghue and Roman Catholic diocesan officials by Edward L. Gagne in 1994. A summary judgment is a judgment without the necessity of a trial on the basis of undisputed facts as disclosed by the pleadings in a case.
Gagne, of Spencer, alleges in the suit that he was sexually assaulted as a 13-year-old altar boy by O’Donoghue in the rectory of Our Lady of the Rosary in Spencer. The assault is alleged to have occurred in 1978.
Gagne further alleges that Inzerillo sexually assaulted him in 1985 when Inzerillo was vocation director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Worcester and Gagne was considering entering the priesthood.
Inzerillo, who is on administrative leave from St. Anthony de Padua Church in Fitchburg, and O’Donoghue, who is retired, denied Gagne’s allegations in depositions.
STATUTE OF LIMITATIONS Lawyer Beth A. Bagley, representing Inzerillo, argued in court filings that Gagne’s claims against Inzerillo, which include allegations of sexual assault and battery, negligence, invasion of right of privacy, clergy malpractice and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress, are legally barred by the statute of limitations because the suit was filed more than three years after the alleged abuse.
In denying the motion, however, van Gestel said case law has established that the statute of limitations in such cases does not begin until the plaintiff learns, or reasonably should have learned, that he or she has been harmed by a defendant’s conduct.
Gagne contends that he did not realize the connection between the alleged sexual assaults by Inzerillo and O’Donoghue and his resulting psychological and emotional harm until 1991, when he was undergoing psychiatric counseling
EARLIER RULING .
Van Gestel noted that another Superior Court judge, Daniel F. Toomey, ruled earlier in the case that Gagne had “presented sufficient evidence to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to when he knew or should have known that his injuries were caused by the defendants’ conduct.
“Such an issue is material to the defense of statute of limitations and renders defendants’ motion premature,” Toomey found.
Toomey’s June 26 ruling was in response to a motion to dismiss, or, in the alternative, for summary judgment filed by lawyers for O’Donoghue, retired Bishop Bernard J. Flanagan and retired Bishop Timothy J. Harrington.
Toomey allowed the motion as to clergy malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty claims against O’Donoghue, Flanagan, Harrington and the diocese and denied it as to all other claims against those defendants, including negligence, sexual assault and battery, invasion of privacy, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims against O’Donoghue and the diocese and negligence and negligent hiring and supervision claims against Flanagan and Harrington.
At the time the lawsuit was filed, Inzerillo, who grew up in Barre and graduated from the former Barre High School, was diocesan vocations director and has been pastor of St. Anthony de Padua Church, Fitchburg, since 1985. He was headmaster of St. Peter-Marian High School, Worcester, from 1979 until going to Fitchburg. He also served as hockey coach at St. Peter-Marian and then at St. Bernard’s in Fitchburg. He was ordained in 1970 by then Bishop Flanagan. He was associate pastor at St. Ann’s Church, Leominster, after ordination and then was transferred to St. Peter’s High School, which later merged with Marian. While teaching he was in residence at St. Columba’s rectory, Paxton, St. Stephen’s rectory and Our Lady of Lourdes. ”