Stamford -- The longtime pastor of a local Roman Catholic church was removed from his post after being accused of molesting a boy two decades ago, diocesan officials said yesterday.
The Rev. Sherman Gray, pastor of Holy Name of Jesus Church at Washington Boulevard and Pulaski Street, is one of three Diocese of Bridgeport priests who voluntarily resigned as the diocese investigates allegations that the three men had abused the same boy.
"I'm shocked actually," Holy Name parishioner Ted Bakowski said. "He's very well-liked, well-spoken and educated. . . . Out of all the priests, he is the last one I would imagine to be accused of something like this."
The other accused priests are the Rev. Albert McGoldrick, pastor of St. Paul Parish in Greenwich, and the Rev. Robert Morrissey, pastor of St. Mary Parish in Ridgefield, officials said.
The alleged victim, now in his 30s, accused the priests of sexual abuse in a letter he sent three weeks ago to church leaders, said Joseph McAleer, a diocese spokesman.
"He claims that he was abused separately by each priest on different occasions between the years of 1979 and 1983, when the victim would have been between the ages of 15 and 19," the diocese said.
Officials didn't say how the boy knew the three priests.
This is the first time each of the three priests has been accused of sexual abuse, officials said. Bishop William Lori met with the victim Dec. 4, when the victim revealed the identities of the priests, McAleer said. Lori also has interviewed the three priests, he said.
The priests resigned on their own and requested leaves of absence. McAleer said their resignations "should not necessarily be viewed as an admission of guilt."
Because they no longer have assignments within the diocese, Gray, McGoldrick and Morrissey's function to act as priests has been removed, McAleer said.
The case has been referred to the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board -- a panel whose members include a local priest, a pediatrician and a former prosecutor.
If the board finds the allegations appear to be true, the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith in Rome could order the diocese to try the cases by a church tribunal. The state Department of Children and Families also has been notified, McAleer said.
The local allegations -- the latest in a wave of sexual abuse scandals to hit the nation's Roman Catholic churches this year -- come as parishioners prepare to celebrate Christmas. Officials said the timing is unfortunate but said the diocese is committed to taking quick action in matters of sexual misconduct.
"I am greatly saddened by this tragic situation. So many lives have been upset and disrupted by this news, including the victim, the priests and their respective parish communities," Lori said in a statement. "I regret that the diocese is facing such a sad situation during this holy season of Advent. But, like my brother bishops, I remain committed to following the Essential Norms faithfully and thoroughly so that no one who works for the Catholic Church will pose a threat of any kind to a young person or a child."
Lori plans to visit the three parishes this weekend to offer parishioners his support. A representative of Catholic Charities will be at every Mass to offer counseling to parishioners and family members.
The announcement came the same day as the resignation of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Shaw as the sex abuse scandal continued.
Three priests have been assigned to serve as temporary administrators of the churches until further notice.
Gray, 59, was ordained as a priest in 1970. He has been pastor of Holy Name of Jesus since 1987 and is well-liked by parishioners.
"I'm going to miss him. He's a very nice priest . . . a very good priest," Bakowski's mother, Genowesa, said. "I like him very much. He has a good personality and I talk to him every day after Mass."
She said Gray, a native of Montague, Mass., told her recently he was leaving the parish because he was thinking of becoming a seminary teacher.
Her son said he can't believe that the sexual abuse allegations against Gray are true.
McGoldrick, 52, has been a priest since 1978 and has been assigned to St. Paul's since 1999.
"He has seemed unhappy for a while but he's a very private individual who keeps to himself," said Tom Malarkey, head usher at the church. "He was not the type of person who warmed up to people or people could warm up to. In my mind there are two types of priests -- pastoral and administrative. The prior priest was a people priest, but I think of Father McGoldrick as an administrative priest."
Malarkey is the leader of the Greenwich chapter of the lay Catholic Organization called Voice of the Faithful, formed in response to the priest sex scandal that has been sweeping the nation. He said it was disturbing to have the sex abuse issue strike his parish.
"I hope the allegations are incorrect. I guess that the best the parish can do is pray for him and pray for the victim, if the victim is in fact a victim," Malarkey said.
Most victims of sexual abuse by priests are telling the truth, but some victims are only looking for money, Malarkey said. He believes the new abuse allegations will draw more people to the Voice of the Faithful.
In previous interviews, McGoldrick was critical of the Voice of the Faithful, and said the reform movement in the Catholic church will be "short-lived."
"If they push forward with an agenda that's going to clash with church teachings, I don't think that you'll find bishops or parishioners to go along with that," he said in the summer.
Morrissey, 57, has been pastor of St. Mary's in Ridgefield since 1992. St. Mary's is the only affected church with an elementary school so officials sent parents a letter yesterday informing them of the charges, McAleer said.
The Rev. Stanley Staniszewski, assistant pastor at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Stamford, will serve as temporary administrator of Holy Name of Jesus Church.
The Rev. Frank McGrath, director of clergy personnel for the diocese, has been assigned to St. Mary Parish, and the Rev. Kevin Royal, rector of St. John Fisher Seminary Residence, will be temporary administrator at St. Paul Parish.
"These are very fine, holy and solid priests who will pull these parish communities up and lead them on the path toward healing," McAleer said.
The diocese said it will have no further comment until the investigation is complete.
A new sexual abuse policy approved last month by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops requires that all priests who admit to even a single act sexual abuse, or are found guilty of it after a diocesan investigation, would be removed from ministry. Bishops also have the option of removing an offender from the priesthood with or without his consent.
St. Paul's parishioners were notified of their priest's resignation yesterday, a day after clergy from throughout the diocese received hints of the news during an Advent prayer gathering in Westport, where Lori alluded to the priests' removal.
"He said, 'Let us be together in prayer because there will be allegations coming out tomorrow,' " said the Rev. Nicholas Calabro of Greenwich's St. Roch Church. "That just put a damper on everything."
"People settle in and the whole thing erupts again," said Calabro, who received a letter from the diocese to read to his parishioners.
In the letter, Lori asks Catholics throughout the diocese to pray for the church, Calabro said, quoting the bishop from the document's text: "Many of you say, 'Not again. When will this end?' "