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More Priest Abuse In Bellingham: Documents Show Former Assumption Parish Leader Sent There To Flee Accusations

Dec 4, 2002

A priest assigned to Assumption Parish in Bellingham in 1984 was sent there to escape his record of sexual abuse at another parish, but continued the pattern in Bellingham, according to church documents released yesterday.

The documents also show that Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law was aware of far more clergy abuse cases than he has admitted, and his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, covered up for molesters, too.

The documents show the Rev. Robert Morrissette, now 53, was transferred to Bellingham from St. Joseph's Parish in Salem by the Archdiocese of Boston after he admitted molesting one boy and received complaints from two others.

While in Bellingham, Morrissette kept pornography, visited homosexual enclaves in Key West and had an affair with a 25-year-old man.

Morrissette's personnel files were among those of eight priests released in Suffolk Superior Court yesterday.

Another of the files belonged to the Rev. Thomas P. Forry, a former military chaplain who filled in for vacationing parish priests in the archdiocese until this year.

In 1999, Law knew that Forry, then a prison chaplain in Concord, had admitted beating his housekeeper, molesting a boy and leading a "double life" with a woman and her teenage son whom records say he also tried to molest.

Forry served until this February, although Law said in January that all priests facing credible abuse allegations had been removed.

Other personnel files released yesterday revealed allegations that priests sexually abused teenage girls, including one priest who had sex with four girls at once in a Cape Cod hotel room. The Rev. Robert Meffan allegedly recruited those and other girls in the late 1960s to become nuns and then sexually abused them while he was assigned in Weymouth.

Other files allege that priests used cocaine and smoked pot. The files were requested by the attorneys for clients who are suing the archdiocese over sex abuse.

Morrissette spent nine years in Bellingham. He began a medical leave in September 1993, has been in therapy ever since, and has never again served as a clergyman, documents show.

A year before he left Salem, where he served from 1976 to 1984, the archdiocese received reports that a college student had stayed overnight at the rectory with him. Morrissette "denied any improper conduct."

Morrissette, who was then 34, explained the incident saying the young man came to the rectory late at night, distraught about his sexual identity and his parents' drinking.

The next year, in 1984, two Salem boys accused Morrissette of sexual abuse. A 16-year-old reported that Morrissette invited him to his room, ran a hand up and down his leg, touched the boy's genitals and kissed him.

When confronted, Morrissette admitted he had "made advances to the young boy." He also admitted he had previously been involved in the "gay scene."

Another family accused him of sexual misconduct, but the details are unclear because hand-written, photocopied notes filed in court were illegible.

"Bob (Morrissette) seems to me to be very sincere and also repentant," wrote the Rev. Harry Rondeau, Salem pastor at the time. "He mentioned, without prompting, his concern for the boy and for the family."

Dr. Alexander O'Hanley of Cambridge, who provided a psychological evaluation of Morrissette, OK'd his transfer to Bellingham. "His assignment to parish ministry is sound and reasonable," O'Hanley wrote.

Morrissette arrived in Bellingham in December 1984, bringing the most up-to-date policies from the Vatican, parishioners said. They remember his first few years as being without incident.

"You have got to be kidding me," said Linda Trudeau, a longtime Assumption parishioner, when told of Morrissette's behavior.

Trudeau said her sons, who were altar boys, accompanied Morrissette on parish ski trips.

She described Morrissette as "sociable," involved with the lectors and parish music groups.

In 1988, the Rev. Richard Matte, then pastor of Assumption, reported that Morrissette was having a relationship with a 25-year-old man.

"This young man referred to Father Morrissette as his lover," Matte reported in a confidential file that was among those made public yesterday.

But Morrissette denied anything improper and said the man "saw more in the relationship than he did."

In a personnel report, Matte said Morrissette "is very immature ... (and) does nothing in the parish," according to the documents.

Morrissette had a reputation for being a stickler for the tiny details of Mass, parishioners said.

He videotaped lectures during Eucharistic ministry training sessions and critiqued ministers' pronunciation and presentation of Scripture, said Joseph F. DiPietro, a lector at the parish for 25 years.

"He was very fussy on everything, but also very proper and seemed to be a hard worker," DiPietro said.

Morrissette complained that Bellingham had a limited cultural life and would drive to New York for First Night celebrations before Boston started the tradition, DiPietro said.

"I never had the slightest hint of him doing anything wrong. I never noticed that he was in any way improper," DiPietro said.

Morrissette left Bellingham when things started to heat up again after a young man accused him of "grabbing him on the butt," the records show.

He was granted sick leave in September 1993. He received psychiatric treatment at the Institute for Health in Hartford, Conn., and later sought therapy from other facilities, while the archdiocese continued to pay.

In 1998, Morrissette's status was changed to "unassigned," which he protested, preferring instead "a leave of absence." He has not sought an assignment since leaving Bellingham in 1993.

The latest report in Morrissette's file shows that he worked at the Boston Harbor Hotel at least until 1999. In October 2000, the church extended his leave of absence.

Morrissette's sexual misconduct debacle is the second to strike the South Bellingham church this year.

His colleague, the Rev. Paul M. Desilets, is due back in Quebec Superior Court on Dec. 17 to answer 32 counts of sexual assault and battery.

Desilets is accused of molesting at least 18 former Assumption Parish altar boys from 1974 to 1984. The boys were ages 8 to 19.

"I never saw Desilets do anything wrong," DiPietro said. Police are looking into the matter, said Chief Gerard Daigle.

Joseph O. Fleuette III, one of Desilets' alleged victims, said he graduated from high school before Morrissette came on board. Fleuette said he did not remember him.

The Rev. Brian F. McMahon who is now pastor of Assumption Parish did not return a phone call yesterday seeking comment.

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