Pembroke parents of St. John student file lawsuit against priest alleging inappropriate comments
The parents of a 14-year-old Pembroke boy have accused a Concord priest of making inappropriate comments about sex and pornography to their son, a student at St. John Regional School, during the sacrament of confession in December.
In a lawsuit filed yesterday by the boy’s parents against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Manchester, the Rev. George Desjardins is accused of asking the boy whether he had “engaged in watching pornographic material and masturbating.” When the boy said that he hadn’t and that he had a girlfriend, Desjardins went on to tell the boy to use “rubbers” and warned him to be careful because a girl can “yell ‘rape’ ” during sex, the lawsuit filed in Hillsborough County Superior Court alleges.
Desjardins then said “I love you very much . . . and God loves you,” according to the lawsuit.
The parents say Desjardins’s inappropriate conduct continued after the incident, including one occasion when the priest made a derogatory comment about the boy’s father in front of other students. The family’s attorney, Peter Hutchins, had declined to describe that comment. Desjardins also is accused of grabbing the boy twice, most recently on Feb. 1, as the student tried to avoid him.
But diocese spokesman Kevin Donovan said that physical contact was nothing more than a handshake after Mass. And he said the diocese disputes the parents’ characterization of Desjardins’s and the boy’s conversation.
Donovan said the school investigated the incident shortly after the parents spoke to the principal and found that it “clearly did not amount to an allegation of sexual abuse.”
He said that conclusion was reached after administrators spoke with Desjardins about the allegations of physical contact and also what questions he had asked the boy during confession. But Donovan added that the priest was prohibited from talking about other parts of the confession, such as what the boy said.
Donovan said the allegation, as it was made by the boy’s parents to the principal, did not rise to a level that required the diocese to report it to the attorney general’s office or the state Division for Children, Youth and Families.
Donovan declined to comment on how Desjardins has characterized his questions to the boy.
Hutchins said those questions were completely unsolicited and amounted to “classic grooming.”
“It was literally out of the blue,” he said. “He explained to the child what confession is and said, ‘Okay. You confess your sins.’ And the kid told him a couple things and then the priest just said . . . ‘Well did you do anything else? I mean did you watch pornography and masturbate?’ And it goes on from there.”
He described the physical contact between the boy and Desjardins, made after the parents had complained to administrators, as more than a handshake.
“They were coming out of Mass, and the priest went up to him and grabbed him by both hands and kind of looked at him, and it was obviously upsetting to the child and he got away. . . . A more appropriate response would have been for the priest to just leave the child alone,” Hutchins said.
Desjardins began working in the Manchester diocese in 1959, according to the lawsuit. He’s a retired pastor and fills in on Masses when others are sick or on vacation, Donovan said.
The parents, whose names are being withheld to protect the identity of their son, have accused the diocese of breaching the contract the two parties entered when they agreed to send their son to St. John. Hutchins said he filed the lawsuit on the parents’ behalf, not their son’s, to lessen the emotional toll on the child. The parents are seeking financial damages including the cost of tuition, therapy for their son and attorney’s fees.
The lawsuit also notes that the diocese entered a plea agreement with the attorney general’s office in 2002 in relation to the sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests in the state, an agreement Hutchins argues made it “even more reasonable” for the parents to assume their son “would not be subjected to this type of sexually charged and inappropriate commentary.”
The Monitor was unable to reach St. John Principal Stephen Donohue, Desjardins or Christ the King Parish Pastor Richard Roberge for comment yesterday afternoon.