Five former St. Patrick’s priests accused of abuse

Jan 9, 2021

Five priests who served at St. Patrick’s Church in Wareham have been accused of sexual abuse, according to a list of 75 accused clergy published on Jan. 7 by the diocese of Fall River.

It is unclear when or for how long these priests worked in Wareham, and the diocese of Fall River declined Wareham Week’s request for that information. Many served at more than eight churches over their careers. 

St. Patrick’s declined to comment for this story.

Several of the priests are facing criminal charges:

Mark Hession has been charged with two counts of rape, one count of indecent assault and battery on a child less than 14, and one count of intimidation of a witness. 

According to the Cape Cod Times, the incidents leading to the rape charges took place between 2005 and 2008, when Hession was serving as the pastor of Our Lady of Victory Parish in Centerville, where he was pastor from 2000 to 2014. The charge for assault and battery on a child dates back to 2002, and the witness intimidation took place between 2005 and 2008, and in 2019, Hession allegedly sent “inappropriate communications” to adult parishioners in Seekonk.

Hession has had his faculties -- or authorization to perform sacraments and act on behalf of the church -- suspended pending the outcome of the criminal case.

Daniel Lacroix, another accused priest, has had his faculties permanently removed.

According to Standard Times, Lacroix served as a Parochial Vicar in Wareham from 1991 to 1995. The allegations of abuse were referred to the Bristol County and Cape and Islands District Attorney’s offices.

In a November 2020 letter, Bishop da Cunha reported that the allegations against Lacroix were credible, and that the diocese was permanently removing him from priestly ministry.

It is unclear when or where the acts of abuse took place, although da Cunha said they had taken place “decades ago.”

Bruce Neylon is another former priest who served at St. Patrick’s.

According to WBUR, Bruce Neylon was removed from active ministry in May 2019.

At the time, da Cunha reported that Neylon had sexual contact with a 14-year-old child on “numerous occasions” in the early 1980s. The victim was not a member of Neylon’s church, and the incidents did not occur on church property. 

Da Cunha said the allegations, which Neylon denies, were credible, and referred the matter to the Bristol County District Attorney’s office.

Two other priests, now deceased, were included on the list: Cornelius J. Keliher was born in 1907 and died in 1993, and William W. Norton was born in 1941 and died in 2004.

Norton — a Fall River native — was assigned to 14 different posts around the South Coast during his career.

He was appointed to Bishop Stang High School in Dartmouth in June 1969, and was also the director of St. Mary’s Home for children in New Bedford in 1970, according to diocesan newsletter “The Anchor.”

“Father William Norton was a part-time religion teacher here during the 1969-70 and 1970-71 school years,” stated Bishop Stang High School President and Principal Peter Shaughnessy, who went on to note that none of the school’s current faculty or staff worked there at the same time as Norton.

Shaughnessy said he was “very saddened” that among the names of those accused of sexual abuse of minors was a priest who at one time taught at the school.

Along with the list of accused clergy, the Fall River Diocese released a letter from Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha in which da Cunha apologized to all survivors of child sexual abuse.

“I am deeply sorry,” he wrote. “We as a Church failed when you were most vulnerable. I firmly resolve to do all we can to help you heal, make certain we are accountable, and protect our children so that no other child suffers as you have.”

Bishop da Cunha also noted that the review took longer than anticipated, with the list of names released nearly two years after the investigation was announced.

“The review of Diocesan records, some going back 70 years, was incredibly arduous and time consuming,” he wrote. “While this review has taken longer than first anticipated, it was crucial that we took the time needed to do it right.”

Diocese officials investigating allegations of abuse comprise a Ministerial Review Board set up in 2020 that includes a psychologist, a nurse, a social worker, a former Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Appeals Court, a retired Senior Executive of the FBI, and others.

Those who want support can call the RAINN 24-hour sexual assault hotline at 1-800-656-4673. The Women’s Center in New Bedford, which also serves men and boys, can be contacted at 508-999-6636 24 hours a day.