Four priests take voluntary leave while allegations are investigated

Effective Aug. 23, Archbishop Seán O’Malley asked four priests, who had been currently assigned to parishes in the Archdiocese of Boston, to take a voluntary leave of absence until the archdiocese can conclude investigations into accusations of sexual misconduct made against them.

The four priests are Father John Chaisson, pastor of St. Adelaide Parish in Peabody; Father Edmund Charest, administrator of Blessed Sacrament Parish in Cambridge; Father Edward Keohan, administrator of Our Lady of Lourdes Parish in Revere and Father Edward Sherry, pastor of Nativity Parish in Merrimac.

The allegations first surfaced in January 2003 when Attorney Mitchell Garabedian filed lawsuits against Fathers Sherry, Keohan and Charest. The archdiocese, however, did not receive the lawsuits until months later, said archdiocesan spokesman Father Christopher Coyne.

He went on to note that each case involves allegations dating back more than two decades. No complaints have arisen in the priests’ current assignments.

According to Father Coyne, the three priests had remained in active ministry because the alleged victims have refused to speak with archdiocesan investigators therefore preventing an investigation that would determine if the allegations were credible.

The archdiocese’s “Policies and Procedures for the Protection of Children,” which were released May 30, state that “In order to uphold due process, a person who brings an allegation of child abuse to the Church will be informed that a written and signed complaint is normally necessary before the Church can undertake an investigation,” reads Article VII of the policies.

However, Archbishop O’Malley decided that the archdiocese had the responsibility of looking into the complaints further and therefore, asked the priests to take voluntary leaves of absence rather than placing them on administrative leave.

Father Coyne explained that the archdiocese is still unsure whether it will be allowed to speak to the alleged victims now.

"I don't know yet. We hope to be able to," he said.

The fourth priest on voluntary leave, Father Chaisson, had been cleared by the archdiocesan review board years ago of the allegation against him.

"The determination was made that Father Chaisson could remain in ministry," stated Father Coyne. "But the archbishop wanted to review it once again"

Archbishop O’Malley made the announcements public in a letter released by the archdiocese Aug. 23. He expressed his gratitude to the priests for accepting voluntary leaves while the claims are investigated and stressed that their leaves should not be seen as a sign of guilt.

"Let me emphasize that such action should not be construed by anyone that the archdiocese has made any determination as to the guilt of these priests," read the letter from Archbishop O'Malley. "Rather, today's announcement should be seen as an attempt to protect all parties involved and to ensure due process both civilly and canonically, for everyone as provided for in our Archdiocesan Policies and Procedures."

Father Coyne went on to say that the cases have “been turned over to the Delegate’s Office and they are at the stage of what is called a preliminary investigation.”

In his letter, Archbishop O’Malley expressed his concerns for victims, their families and also parishioners at the parishes where the priests served, in light of the announcement that additional priests would be removed.

"I am deeply aware that such news has a terrible impact on so many people. My heart goes out to all victims of child abuse and their families, as well as the priests against whom allegations have been made, and the faithful of the parishes where these men serve or have served," stated Archbishop O'Malley.

Then speaking specifically to priests he said, “I am particularly conscious of and concerned about the effect such news has on other priests serving the People of God throughout the archdiocese.”

"My dear brothers, we must be committed to doing all that we can, with God's grace, to lead our people through challenging times," he went on. "All such allegations must be responded to as quickly, effectively and openly as possible."

In closing, he asked for their prayers saying, “I count on your fraternal understanding and prayerful support as I face the difficult task before me. In turn, I pledge my daily prayers for you and all who are in your pastoral care.”

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