March 31, 2005

Killer alleges clergy abuse

Telegram & Gazette


William E. Burnett of Texas, who court documents identify as a nephew of the late Monsignor Raymond J. Page, filed suit yesterday in Hampden Superior Court in Springfield alleging he was sexually abused during the 1950s by his uncle, as well as by Bishop Timothy J. Harrington and the Rev. Oscar Gatineau, all of whom were assigned to the Catholic Diocese of Worcester at the time, and by four clergymen assigned to the Springfield Diocese.

No public allegations of sexual misconduct have previously been made against the three. Mr. Burnett, 64, is serving a 60-year prison term in Tennessee Colony, Texas, on a murder charge.

The suit also names Bishop Christopher Weldon of Springfield and the Revs. Bernard L. Doheny, George Berthiaume and James Walsh, priests of the Springfield Diocese. All seven clergymen named in the suit are deceased.

Bishop Robert J. McManus said yesterday that the diocese learned of and investigated the allegations several years ago, finding no substance to them. “It is profoundly troubling that this suit is attempting to malign the reputations” of the three Worcester clergymen “who had dedicated themselves to serve the people of the Worcester Diocese and, now deceased, cannot defend themselves.”

Mr. Burnett is represented by Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso, who said his client became eligible for parole in November. According to the suit, the abuse of Mr. Burnett started when he was 10 and continued until 1959. Mr. Durso said Mr. Burnett did not make the connection between the alleged sexual abuse and the harm that it caused him until 2002.

The lawsuit maintains that Mr. Burnett was sexually abused by Monsignor Page from age 10 to 16 after he told his uncle that Rev. Doheny had sexually abused him. The alleged incidents occurred at a cabin owned by Monsignor Page in Holland and at the rectory of St. Anne’s Shrine, Fiskdale, according to the suit. The alleged abuse was witnessed by Rev. Gatineau, according to the suit. Mr. Burnett claims that he was sexually abused by Rev. Gatineau from age 12 to13 in the Holland cabin and at the St. Anne rectory.

Mr. Burnett alleges he was sexually abused three times between age 11 and 15 by Bishop Harrington at the Holland cabin and at the St. Anne rectory, and that Monsignor Page witnessed the alleged incidents. Bishop Harrington became head of the Worcester Diocese in 1968.

Bishop McManus said the diocese interviewed Mr. Burnett’s family and conducted “a thorough examination of diocesan records” when the allegations first surfaced. The diocese reported the allegations to District Attorney John J. Conte’s office and notified Mr. Burnett of this, the bishop said.

The lawsuit, according to the bishop, “has left the Page family heartbroken as they bear one more injustice by this nephew of Monsignor Page, as Mr. Burnett is serving a 60-year sentence for murder in Texas. We fear that it is also an injustice to the victims who seek to have their credible stories of abuse heard in order to find healing in their lives,” Bishop McManus said.

“We stand by the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, which states explicitly, ‘When the accusation has proved to be unfounded, every step possible will be taken to restore the good name of the priest or deacon ,’ ” the bishop said.

Posted by kshaw at March 31, 2005 06:23 AM