The Lowell Sun
Updated: 10/10/2011 11:02:57 AM EDT
By Robert Mills, firstname.lastname@example.org and Tom Zuppa, email@example.com
BILLERICA — Parishioners at St. Theresa de Lisieux Parish were shocked yesterday after learning their longtime pastor resigned abruptly because he allowed a volunteer accused of sexually abusing a minor in the 1970s to travel with a youth group last year.
The Rev. Eugene Tully had been told about the allegations and “exercised a serious error in judgment,” according to the Archdiocese of Boston.
The archdiocese announced Tully’s resignation via a statement read at Mass by the Rev. Arthur Coyle, episcopal vicar for the Merrimack Region.
The statement, read by Coyle, states: “The Archdiocese of Boston has established clear policies and protocols for matters involving ministry that includes young adults and children. The primary purpose of these policies is the protection of children. All pastors are expected to be vigilant in the implementation of these policies and protocols. Further, if an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor is brought forward, that volunteer must step down from any parish ministry while the allegation is being investigated.”
The statement stresses that Tully will be given another assignment in the archdiocese, and will not face defrocking.
The parish volunteer Tully allowed to go on the trip is not named in the statement. The Sun has confirmed his name is Renald “Ron” Hallee, 66, of Billerica, a former priest.
Christine Angell, 49, of Portland, Maine, sued Hallee and the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland in March 2010. In court papers, Angell said Hallee sexually abused her from 1970 to 1973. Hallee was a priest at St. John Catholic Church in Bangor, Maine, at the time.
Hallee and the diocese, through their Portland attorneys, have denied the allegations, the Bangor Daily News reported.
Angell’s lawsuit was dismissed because Maine law had a statute of limitations on such crimes in the 1970s. Those laws have been changed.
Last month, Angell’s attorneys argued before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that the statute of limitations did not apply, because Hallee had left the state. That court has not ruled.
Hallee left the priesthood voluntarily in 1977. Starting in 1978, Hallee asked to be laicized, a formal request to the church to be considered a lay person, according to the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portland. The Vatican finally granted the request in 2009.
The archdiocese said Tully allowed Hallee to travel with parish teens on an April 2010 trip after Tully learned about the lawsuit. The Sun has learned that Hallee has traveled with children at least once before, as a chaperone for 10 teens on a church outreach trip to Spencer, W. Va., in 2008.
The archdiocese statement adds: “… no allegations of misconduct received at St. Theresa involving this volunteer. In fact, the policy of the Archdiocese is that any church official or volunteer who works with young adults or children must be subjected to a Criminal Offender Record Information (or CORI) review. A CORI check was processed for the volunteer and it was returned as “no record found,” which cleared him for ministry as late as Fiscal Year 2011.”
Tully, 69, has been a priest for more than 40 years. He served at St. Patrick’s Church in Lynn, St. Linus Church in Natick, St. Ann Church in Peabody, and St. Clement Church in Somerville, and was named pastor of St. Theresa’s in December 1992.
The Rev. James McCormick, St. Theresa’s senior priest in residence, will serve as temporary administrator until a new pastor is placed, the archdiocese said.
Parishioners, expressed shock at the news that a pastor some consider a family member is leaving his post.
“We’ll definitely miss him. He’s been a great pastor,” said Loretta Caponigro. “We’re very shocked.”
“I’m upset we’re losing him,” said Lauraine Robichaud.
Parishioners only knew what was read aloud at Mass in the statement, and were just hearing the news. Most were hesitant to pass judgment.
“I can see why with all the history in the church, but it still seems drastic,” said Trisha Toner. “He really cares about this parish.”
Caponigro said she was hesitant to judge the decision without knowing more of the facts. She said Tully had recently helped organize a Sept. 11 service at the church and had done much over the years.
“He’s created a lot of good will for the parish,” Caponigro said.
“I support him,” Larry Femia said as he left Mass yesterday. “He’s a great, great guy.”