Church officials accused in sex abuse lawsuit involving former St. Mary’s priest

Church officials accused in sex abuse lawsuit involving former St. Mary’s priest

FAIRHAVEN — Prominent Boston Attorney Mitchell Garabedian has charged Catholic church officials with not properly supervising the late Father James R. Nickel, who the lawsuit claims sexually abused young boys during his time in local churches.

In one lawsuit, the alleged abuse took place while Father Nickel supervised and counseled young boys at St. Mary’s Parish in Fairhaven. The plaintiff in this case is anonymous, but is said to live in Fairhaven. In the other lawsuit, the charges come from Brian Blackmore of Orlando, Fla.; the abuse allegedly occurred when Father Nickel was at Holy Trinity Parish in West Harwich.

Among those named in the suit are Fathers William Heffron and Gabriel Healy who live on Adams Street in Fairhaven and Bishop Daniel Cronin. Cronin lives in Connecticut, but was bishop in Fall River during the time the alleged sexual abuse occurred.  They are accused of not properly supervising Nickel.  

The sexual abuse is spelled out explicitly in both Superior Court complaints, which call for a jury trial. Others with supervisory authority are simply noted as unnamed defendants.

Garabedian told The Advocate on Jan. 23 the church did settle a previous suit in 2012 involving Father Nickel with a payment in the “low six figures.”

In the lawsuit, Healy, Cronin and unnamed defendants are said to be at fault because it was their responsibility to “hire, retain, direct and supervise individuals of good reputation and character who would be asked to interact with minor boys.”

Asked why the charges were being made now considering that Father Nickel died in 2008, Garabedian said many abuse victims think they were the only ones and feel ashamed. He said they may come forward many years later when they realize that others suffered abuse by the same “pedophile.”

He also said Nickel was often transferred and that, “The question is, where were the supervisors?’

Garabedian said the church has refused to cooperate. 

Fairhaven Selectman Charles Murphy said he was a chaperone on several trips with Father Nickel and youths from St. Mary’s and that he never witnessed any abuse. He called Father Nickel “my friend.” 

Murphy said after his father died, when he was 21 years old, he went on a month-long trip with “Father Jim” whose role was to counsel youth.

“I never saw anything to lead me to believe that,” he said of the allegations. He said the priest was always very respectful toward him.

“To me, personally, he was a good man and he treated me very well,” Murphy said.

He added, “Father Jim passed away seven years ago and for this to come out now, it’s ridiculous.” He said he also questions why someone making the allegations is anonymous.

Murphy, who is a therapist, added that, “The protection of children is very important in the studies I did. If I ever saw any children being abused, I’d report it in a heartbeat.”

He said, “The Pope that we have now” is also seeking healing and, “The church is such a different church now.” 

Garabedien has handled some high profile sexual abuse cases involving the church and said that’s why these men came to him.  He insisted the charges were real and said the alleged victims have suffered a great deal. 

“The question is, where are the supervisors?” he said.  He called them “negligent” for not screening someone better and said he hoped to learn more through the records and depositions that would have to be provided at a trial.  Of Cronin, he said, “I will depose him.”


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