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Spotlight Report

Stigmatine priest sued in abuse case

By Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff, 9/30/2002

A Springfield man is suing a Stigmatine order priest, saying that the clergyman failed to protect him from another cleric who allegedly sexually abused him from the time he was 12 to 15 years old.

In a lawsuit filed in Middlesex Superior Court last Thursday, Donald Smith, 44, alleges that the Rev. Joseph Fellin knew or should have known that the Rev. Richard Ahern was of bad character and reputation and unable to properly interact with minors.

Ahern is deceased.

Smith's attorney, Mitchell Garabedian, who recently won a multimillion dollar settlement for victims of defrocked priest John Geoghan, alleged yesterday that Ahern, then affiliated with Our Lady of Mount Carmel parish in Pittsfield, repeatedly raped his client from 1970-73.

Garabedian also said he was suing Fellin, who was then Ahern's supervisor, and not the Congregation of the Sacred Stigmata because state law limits damages in lawsuits against charities to $20,000.

As a supervisor, Fellin is insured and there is no cap on damages he could be forced to pay, Garabedian said.

Efforts to reach Fellin and Stigmatine officials were not successful.

In an interview yesterday, Smith, a former minister at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, said he decided to come forward after Palm Sunday, when he overheard church officials belittling victims and accusing the media of executing agendas against the church.

He also then resigned from his minister position, which he had held for three years.

By coming forward now, Smith said, he is ''hoping that other people will come forward and not have to feel ashamed of what's happened to them.''

The Stigmatine order, which is based in Waltham, has about 550 priests worldwide, according to its Web site, but only about 20 active in the United States, according to a priest.

The order's name is drawn from the term used to describe the crucifixion wounds of Jesus. Almost one-third of the estimated 47,000 Roman Catholic priests in the United States belong to religious orders.

Michael Rosenwald can be reached at

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 9/30/2002.
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