Sexual misconduct allegations widen
BOSTON GLOBE | December 21, 1992
By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff
A priest who was ordered by the Worcester Diocese in 1971 to seek medical treatment for pedophilia had sexually abused several boys repeatedly at a parish in East Douglas, according to one of the alleged victims.
The alleged victim, who asked that his identity not be disclosed, said that the Rev. David A. Holley forced him and two boyhood friends to engage in repeated acts of oral sex while Holley served as assistant pastor of St. Denis Church.
The accounts of sexual abuse provided to The Globe by the alleged victim, now a 40-year-old Boston communications specialist, are the first public allegations that Holley molested youths while assigned to parishes in central Massachusetts between 1960 and 1972.
Holley was accused in a civil suit filed Wednesday in New Mexico of sexually abusing two men in the early 1970’s while serving as a priest at a parish in Alamogordo, N.M. The lawyer representing the two alleged victims said Friday that he had heard from about 10 others since the lawsuit was filed, contending they, too, had been abused by Holley at the Alamogordo parish.
The Worcester Diocese, which initially recommended Holley for treatment and continued to supervise his assignments, now fears that the Roman Catholic priest may have abused young boys in at least four dioceses – including Worcester, one in New Mexico and two in Texas – during his 25 years as an active priest, according to a source close to the diocese. The source also said the diocese was told by another person that he had been abused by Holley when the priest was assigned to one of the four churches in the Worcester area.
Holley, now 65 and living in Denver as a retired priest, has been unavailable for comment since the lawsuit was filed. Late last week, the Worcester Diocese ordered the Connecticut–born Holley back to Massachusetts for medical evaluation.
According to church sources, Holley’s return will mark the first time that diocesan officials have seen him since the early 1970’s, when he was directed by his superiors to seek a psychological evaluation for pedophilia at a Catholic–run retreat for troubled priests near Albuquerque.
Although the number of alleged victims may be far less, Holley’s case is raising many of the same questions of institutional responsibilities and priorities that came out of the case of James R. Porter, the former Fall River priest, who allegedly molested nearly 100 youths in the 1960’s.
Both men were sent by their dioceses to New Mexico for treatment and both were released periodically by the Order of the Paraclete Treatment Center to serve in nearby parishes.
But neither the priests nor the congregations at the churches appear to have been told by diocesan or Paraclete officials that Holley and Porter had been undergoing treatment for pedophilia.
“How could he have gone from church to church across the country doing things like this for 25 years,” said the East Douglas native who has accused Holley of sexual abuse. “Were there no adults willing to stand up?”
According to the 40-year-old man, Holley showed him and several of his East Douglas friends suggestive pictures before making the sexual advances.
All were about 10 years old at the time and for the most part came from lower-middle class families that served as the core of the St. Denis parish. Parishioners had welcomed Holley’s arrival enthusiastically, believing the tall, outgoing priest might be eventually selected to succeed the Rev. Richard Dee, an aging prelate who had presided at St. Denis for many years.
Holley seemed to have special affection for the alter boys and other preadolescent males in the parish, often inviting small groups to visit him in the rectory or church basement following afternoon Catholic youth education classes, the accuser said.
Invariably, however, Holley would tell an off-color story or joke, and then bring out a collection of Playboy magazines or deck of cards that showed couples in sexually graphic poses, the man said.
The sessions allegedly degenerated into sexual encounters on numerous occasions, the communications specialist recalled Saturday. Holley, he said, would first place the hand of one of the boys on his crotch and begin masturbating or take out his penis and engage the boys in fellatio.
The man said he recalls five different sites within the St. Denis complex where Holley abused boys, including on the alter and within the sacristy. Although the boys knew they were engaging in improper behavior, the communications specialist said, they never disobeyed Holley’s directive not to tell their parents or elders of the acts.
Now, 30 years later, the man said he was torn over telling his story. On one hand, he feared being singled out for criticism by some East Douglas parishioners for making the allegations.
However, he decided to speak out in hopes that others who may have been molested by Holley in the four central Massachusetts parishes would not be afraid to come forward.
Worcester District Attorney John J. Conte said Friday that no one had yet contacted his office concerning Holley. Conte said he did not have sufficient staff to visit the towns where Holley had been assigned to see if alleged victims could be located.
Holley had been ordained in Worcester about 1960, according to a chronology he provided several years ago. He served as a priest in four central Massachusetts parishes before leaving in 1972 for the Order of the Paraclete Treatment Center in Jemez Springs, N.M.
The four Massachusetts parishes were: St. Philip’s in Grafton, 1962-1964; St. Denis, East Douglas, 1964-1966; St. Mary’s, Boylston, 1966-1968, and Our Lady of Fatima Church in Worcester, 1968-1972.
The Worcester Diocese, along with the Paraclete treatment center, has been sued by the alleged New Mexico victims for allowing Holley to secure transfers to other churches even though the diocese and the center suspected he was a pedophile. Because he was ordained in Worcester, Holley needed approval from Worcester diocesan superiors to serve in other churches.
James G. Reardon of Worcester, lawyer for the diocese, declined to say Friday whether Holley’s superiors approved his transfers to churches in New Mexico and Texas or that Holley had been ordered to the Paraclete treatment center because of allegations of sexual abuse of children.
However, The Globe has learned of three occasions on which Holley’s superiors in Worcester acknowledged to others that he had been disciplined for improper behavior or had been ordered to seek treatment.
An employee at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Worcester, Holley’s final parish assignment in central Massachusetts, said he had been told by another parish priest that Holley had been ordered out of the church. The employee, who asked that his name not be disclosed, said that Msgr. Joseph O’Connell told him that Holley was not to be allowed on the church’s premises and if he were seen that Msgr. O’Connell was to be notified immediately.
Msgr. O’Connell is now deceased and Reardon declined to answer questions about Holley’s tenure at Our Lady of Fatima.
A top diocese official acknowledged to a New Mexico man in late October that Holley had been sent to the Paraclete treatment center but that he had not responded to counseling.
Although he is not one of the two men suing Holley, the New Mexico man appears to have been the person who brought Holley’s alleged abuse to light.
The man, who asked that his identity not be disclosed, said that he recently confronted the Rev. Rocco M. Piccolomini, vicar for priests for the Worcester Diocese, with questions about how the diocese had handled Holley and why it had allowed him to gain assignments to New Mexico parishes.
Reading from notes he took from his telephone conversation with Father Piccolomini, the man quoted the Worcester vicar as saying: “We attempted to give him treatment at Jemez Springs [Paraclete’s site] but it didn’t work.”
Perhaps the most open admission of the diocese’s knowledge of Holley’s problems appears to have been made by Bishop Timothy J. Harrington, head of the Worcester Diocese since 1983.
According to Bishop Leroy T. Matthiesen, head of the Amarillo Diocese in Texas, Bishop Harrington told him that Holley had a problem with molesting children and that the diocese had sought to help the priest by sending him to the Paraclete center for treatment.
“Bishop Harrington told me that he knew Holley had a bad problem which is why they sent him out here,” Bishop Matthiesen said in a telephone interview, “But once he [Holley] had come out here they had lost track of him.”
Bishop Matthiesen said he had called Worcester after Holley was accused of making advances toward a 16-year-old nephew of a newly ordained priest at St. Joseph’s Church in Amarillo in 1985. The nephew and his parents were visiting from Malaysia and were staying at the same rectory where Holley was living, Bishop Matthiesen said.
The teen-ager later told his uncle that Holley approached him late one night and invited him to his room to watch a movie on television that featured soft-core pornographic scenes. While the film was in progress, Holley allegedly tried to show the boy sexually explicit photographs. The boy, however, rebuffed Holley.
Bishop Matthiesen said he had also been told by Bishop Joseph A. Fiorenza, head of the San Angelo diocese where Holley had served before coming to Amarillo, that Holley had “similar problems” with pornography and young boys during his several years there.
Holley left Amarillo and returned to Albuquerque where he worked as a pastor at St. Joseph’s Hospital until 1987. He then moved to Denver and worked for a year as a chaplain at St. Anthony’s Hospital before retiring.
The Worcester Diocese issued a compassionate statement last week to anyone who might have been abused by Holley.
However, according to Reardon, the church is not ready to make public its personnel file on Holley.
Also, Reardon said, while the diocese stands ready to offer psychological counseling, if necessary, to any who may have been abused by Holley, the diocese has not started an active campaign to seek out potential victims.
He said the diocese’s policy in dealing with such allegations was spelled out in a statement by Bishop Harrington in mid-October, about a week before he was contacted for the first time by an alleged victim of Holley.
While the diocese may be restricted by the legal process in how it responds to every allegation, Bishop Harrington pledged not to assign any priest to a ministry if he is accurately accused of misconduct. He also called on children and parents to make known to the diocese any complaint concerning sexual misconduct immediately, conceding that it had been a grievous error to keep such allegations private in the past.
Contributing Reporter Gerald F. Russell provided information for this report.