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Pressure builds on Diocese of Fall River to release names of priests, staff credibly accused of sexual abuse

"It is time to end the secrecy, provide transparency and act in a positive manner."

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian is calling for the release of the names of "all credibly accused priests and Catholic church employees who sexually abused minor children when working within the Diocese of Fall River." Joseph Prezioso / AFP / File

The Diocese of Fall River is facing calls to release a list of clergy who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor.

Last week, prominent attorney Mitchell Garabedian released his own list containing the names of seven priests, two clergy members, and one Catholic church employee who his office has successfully brought child sexual abuse claims against.

The move comes a year after Bishop Edgar da Cunha announced the diocese was readying a list for eventual publication, following a review of all its personnel records by former FBI assistant director William Gavin.

Most of the names anticipated to be released by the church have already been reported by the news media; however, the list is “necessary for greater transparency on our part in response to clerical sexual abuse,” da Cunha wrote in a letter to the diocese at the time.

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The review process, he wrote, was expected to wrap up last spring.

Garabedian’s list includes credibly accused men, whose cases span nearly four decades, from 1947 through 1986, according to his office. The men served in New Bedford, Assonet, Fall River, Taunton, West Harwich, Dennisport, North Attleboro and East Falmouth, according to Garabedian.

“As a matter of moral responsibility, it is time for Bishop da Cunha to immediately publicly list the names of all credibly accused priests and Catholic church employees who sexually abused minor children when working within the Diocese of Fall River,” Garabedian said in an emailed statement Jan. 21. “Releasing the list will help sexual abuse victims try to heal, empower other victims and make the world a safer place for children.”

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“To not immediately release the list is a re-victimization of sexual abuse victims,” said Garabedian, who also released details about alleged abuse by Father Edward Byington, one of two retired priests recently suspended from ministry, The Standard-Times reports. “It is time to end the secrecy, provide transparency and act in a positive manner.”

Also last week, Robert Hoatson, co-founder and president of the New Jersey-based nonprofit, Road to Recovery, Inc., which provides assistance to sexual abuse survivors and their families, staged a one-man demonstration outside the diocese headquarters in Fall River.

Hoatson, a former priest who once served with da Cunha in the Archdiocese of Newark, called on da Cuhna to release the list.

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“We think it is outrageous that victims in Fall River are continuing to live with the fact that secrecy continues and cover-up continues,” he told WPRI on Jan. 21. “The longer that Bishop da Cunha does not release the list of abusive clergy in this Diocese, the less safe children are and the more re-victimized victims are.”

Since announcing its intent to publish names, the diocese has maintained it remains committed to doing so.

“The Diocese of Fall River engaged the services of an outside consultant to review personnel files of all priests, living or deceased,” John Kearns, the diocese’s director of communications, said in a statement in response to Garabedian’s list. “Work is now ongoing following this external review to prepare for the eventual publication of the list.”

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The diocese also acknowledged Hoatson’s protest in a similar statement.

“Bishop da Cunha appreciates the concerns of the individual who was present today and wishes to assure the community of faithful that the diocese is taking the time and diligence necessary to compile a list that is accurate and thorough,” the statement says.

Another suspension announced

On Sunday, the diocese said it suspended Father Herbert Nichols, a retired priest, over a sexual abuse allegation involving a minor, in an incident alleged to have happened approximately 20 years ago.

Nichols, who is not assigned to a parish during his retirement but has assisted with the celebration of mass in several parishes, denies the allegation, according to a statement from the diocese, which is investigating the incident.

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The decision to suspend Nichols was made based upon information gleaned during the review of personnel files, the diocese said.

“The task of evaluating all of the files and the response needed on our part as a result of the findings have, regretfully, taken more time than first thought,” da Cunha said in the statement. “It is crucial that we take the time and perform the diligence necessary to compile a list that is accurate and complete, and we continue to do so.

“I understand that these recent announcements regarding the suspensions of priests are upsetting to our diocesan community of faith and often bring renewed pain to victims of sexual abuse especially victims of sexual abuse by clergy,” he added. “I continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who have suffered greatly.”

On Jan. 19, the diocese had announced the suspension of two retired priests, Father James Buckley and Father Edward Byington “due to separate allegations of sexual abuse of a minor, said to have occurred decades ago.”

Both priests have denied the allegations. An investigation by the diocese is ongoing.

In November, the diocese placed two active priests on administrative leave: Father Richard Degagne, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Easton, and Father Daniel Lacroix, co-pastor of St. Joseph & St. Therese, St. Mary, and Our Lady of Fatima parishes in New Bedford.

The external review of the diocese’s personnel files found information relating to “alleged misconduct” from decades earlier, said the diocese, which is probing the claims.

The alleged misconduct against Degagne is said to have happened before he was a priest, the diocese said. Both priests have denied the allegations.

The diocese said it recently hired a licensed social worker to handle the its outreach to survivors of abuse.

“As a social worker, I am here to listen to anyone with concerns and to connect survivors to the resources they need,” Carolyn Shipp said in a statement.

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