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Springfield Diocese Investigating Sex Allegations Against Priest

Apr 15, 2004 | AP A Catholic priest being sued by three brothers who say he molested them has been placed on administrative leave, church officials said Thursday.

The Rev. Ronald E. Wamsher, 54, is the second church figure to be taken off the job this week as the sex abuse scandal in the church's western Massachusetts parishes continues to grow.

Michael Graziano, who is not a priest but was in charge of the diocese's Catholic Communications Corporation, resigned Monday after he was accused of sexual misconduct dating back to 1985.

Wamsher, who served on the diocese's tribunal, a panel that mainly rules on marriage annulments, has been accused of molesting three brothers 25 years ago, church officials said. Wamsher did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

When the complaints against Wamsher were first made in August 2002, the diocese notified the district attorney's office. Officials would not provide details of the allegations, but said Wamsher has maintained his innocence.

Hampden County District Attorney William Bennett said he is reviewing information turned over by the diocese.

Wamsher is named in a lawsuit filed last year by four brothers who say they were molested by five priests when they were children living in Greenfield. Three of the brothers say they are victims of Wamsher. Two of the other priests are dead and the two others have been removed from ministry and cannot serve as priests.

''I can't imagine why it's taken the church until now to take action regarding Wamsher,'' said Carmen Durso, the Boston lawyer representing the brothers. ''It's essential to remove a priest from service whenever there is a credible allegation.''

The brothers filed their lawsuit using pseudonyms and now live out-of-state.

Laura Failla Reilly, the diocese's victim advocate, said there was a delay in taking action because the church was waiting for information from the brothers and did not have a trained investigator to look into the case. Also, the February departure of Bishop Thomas Dupre amid allegations that he molested two boys during the 1970s held up their probe, she said.

''Those things don't justify why it took so long, and we're very sorry about that,'' Reilly said. ''This didn't happen in an acceptable amount of time.''

Wamsher had been pursuing a canon law degree and was transferred to the tribunal from his post as parochial vicar at St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Belchertown shortly after the allegations were made, Reilly said.

''He hasn't been in a parish since September 2002,'' Reilly said.

A retired state police detective hired this month by the diocese to investigate sexual misconduct allegations is handling the claims against Wamsher and will report his findings to a lay board that reviews claims of clergy sex abuse.

The all-volunteer board will then recommend to Bishop Timothy McDonnell what action, if any, should be taken against Wamsher.

McDonnell took over the Springfield Diocese earlier this month, weeks after Bishop Dupre resigned when confronted by The Republican newspaper with allegations that he molested two boys when he was a parish priest.

In an effort to resolve more than 40 lawsuits and complaints against the diocese made by people who say they were the victims of pedophile priests, McDonnell this week said the diocese has agreed to a 45-day moratorium on all litigation while lawyers try to reach settlements in the cases.

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