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Spotlight Report

Wayland, Billerica pastors are removed by archdiocese

By Walter V. Robinson and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 6/27/2002

The Archdiocese of Boston yesterday removed two pastors from active ministry after receiving sexual abuse allegations against them credible enough to warrant further investigation.

The Rev. W. James Nyhan, pastor of Saint Mary Church in Billerica, and the Rev. Ronald L. Bourgault, pastor of Saint Zepherin Church in Wayland, bring to 15 the number of priests suspended by the archdiocese since the clergy abuse scandal erupted in January.

Donna M. Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said the church investigations into the two pastors should not be seen as an indication that either cleric is guilty, adding that the pastors will continue to receive their salaries and health benefits.

She also said that in the event the allegations prove groundless ''efforts will be made to restore'' the priests' reputations.

Bourgault, 63, was removed because of a recent allegation of abuse that allegedly took place more than 30 years ago. The archdiocese did not provide details of the allegations.

Nyhan, 56, was removed due to an allegation made Tuesday by a Quincy man who said Nyhan molested him repeatedly in the 1970s. Neither Bourgault nor Nyhan returned telephone calls seeking comment about the allegations.

According to Morrissey, a previous investigation into a separate abuse allegation against Nyhan was closed after his accuser recanted. But the allegation made Tuesday by Dennis M. LaCorte, a 38-year-old Quincy man, was deemed sufficiently credible to warrant Nyhan's immediate suspension.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney for LaCorte, said laCorte will meet with church officials tomorrow to discuss details of the allegations.

LaCorte, in an emotional interview with the Globe, said he was molested numerous times by Nyhan over about 18 months in the 1970s, when Nyhan was a young priest at St. Ambrose Church in Dorchester.

''I do not want to see him practicing in the priesthood,'' LaCorte said. He said Nyhan molested him ''well over'' 25 times, including instances when the priest allegedly forced him to perform oral sex on him.

Lacorte said that he met Nyhan when the priest was running the St. Ambrose Catholic Youth Organization and that Nyhan sexually molested him repeatedly when he was 11 and 12 years old.

Nyhan, LaCorte said, first abused him in the swimming pool of the Dorchester YMCA, and went on to molest him dozens of times in the bathroom of the St. Ambrose Church basement, and in bathroom stalls at Fenway Park, during CYO outings.

''It started out with him groping me in the pool and then went on to other things,'' LaCorte said. ''He preyed on my innocence and preyed on the fact that I was brought up Catholic and was raised to look up to a priest.''

A former truck driver, LaCorte has served two drug-related jail sentences and is completing a program at a Boston area halfway house where he has undergone counseling for years of substance abuse that he attributes to the alleged molestations by Nyhan.

Since February, the archdiocese has removed 13 other priests from service, including seven pastors and two area vicars, after discovering evidence in its own files - or hearing from alleged victims - credible allegations of sexual abuse.

Under a ''zero tolerance'' policy established in January, the church has removed all priests credibly accused of sexual misconduct while investigating the accusations. To date, none of the priests have been returned to active ministry.

According to an archdiocesan document that contains a partial listing of priests who have faced sexual abuse charges in the last decade, Nyhan was one of 46 priests listed on a single page whose cases were considered by a review board established in 1993 by Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

The page is one of at least two and possibly three pages that list priests who have faced allegations, whether they were substantiated or not.

Nyhan is listed as number 52 on a page that includes priests assigned numbers from 36 through 81. The document was made public as part of a lawsuit involving former priest Ronald H. Paquin, whose name is also on the same page.

According to the document, the review board considered Nyhan's case twice, on Nov. 3, 1994, and Dec. 4, 1997. The document contains no hint of what the allegation or allegations were, and what the archdiocese concluded.

From the early 1980s until 1994, Nyhan was the chaplain at Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody, an archdiocesan school. In 1994, the same year the review board first considered his case, Nyhan was transferred to Blessed Sacrament Church in Saugus. The following year, he had no assignment, according to the annual archdiocesan directories.

The same directories show that Nyhan was transferred to Matignon High School in Cambridge as chaplain from 1996 through 1998. He was named pastor of the Billerica parish in 1999.

The list of 46 priests includes several priests whose alleged sexual abuse of minors has received substantial public attention, including former priest John J. Geoghan and several of the 15 that Law has removed since February.

One of the pastors, the Rev. Daniel M. Graham, was allowed to remain as pastor even though he had admitted to an incident of sexual abuse early in his career.

Matt Carroll of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

Walter V. Robinson can be reached at Michael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page A21 of the Boston Globe on 6/27/2002.
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