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Diocese defrocks Woonsocket priest

April 25, 2012

WOONSOCKET — Citing allegations of sexual misconduct that happened nearly 30 years ago, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence has defrocked a priest assigned to Precious Blood parish and ordered him to move out of the rectory.
The Rev. Timothy J. Gorton was sanctioned by the diocese over allegations brought against him by his nephew, James C. Wilkinson, according to documents obtained by The Call and interviews with the victim. Wilkinson said he was 12 years old when Gorton fondled him in the rectory of a church in Cumberland in 1983 and, later that year, when Gorton allegedly exposed himself to him at a beach cottage in Narragansett that belonged to a family friend. Despite the allegations, which have been forwarded to law enforcement, Gorton is not charged with any criminal offense.
Long troubled by the encounters, Wilksonson said he lodged a complaint with the Diocese Office of Education and Compliance in January after talking the matter over with his therapist.
In an April 10 letter to Wilkinson sent to him from the Diocese, Lt. Robert N. McCarthy, the director of education and compliance, told him that an investigation based on his complaint of “alleged sexual impropriety by your Uncle, Rev. Timothy J. Gorton ...” concluded that “the complaint was credible.” The investigation began on Jan. 27.
In a brief statement, the diocese confirmed that Gorton has been stripped of his priestly duties.
“The Diocese of Providence takes very seriously allegations of sexual abuse by a member of the Church,” the statement says.
After receiving a complaint about Gorton, the diocese said it notified law enforcement officials immediately. A Diocesan Review Board, comprised of laymen and clergy, conducted the investigation and made its recommendations to Bishop Thomas J. Tobin.
“As a result of preliminary study, and in light of (Gorton’s) persistent health concerns, Fr. Gorton has retired from the active ministry of the priesthood and his faculties to function as a priest have been revoked by the Bishop,” the diocese said. “In accordance with Church law, the matter will be referred to the congregation of the Doctrine of Faith in Rome for any further action that might be required.”
Neither Gorton nor Msgr. John Allard, pastor of Precious Blood Church could be reached yesterday, but Wilkinson said Gorton has been a priest at the Carrington Avenue parish about two years and had previously served at a church in Pawtucket.
Although Wilkinson said he is considering hiring a lawyer and suing for civil damages from the diocese, he said he has not done so yet and is satisfied with the church’s handling of his complaint.
“I took a lie detector test and he took a lie detector test,” said Wilkinson. “I passed and he failed. He denied everything right up until the end.”
A resident of North Providence, Wilkinson is 43 years old now and married. He was molested by his uncle about six months after he was ordained a priest, Wilkinson alleges.
Gorton, who is in his mid-50s, according to Wilkinson, would have been about 26 years old then.
As a result of the trauma from the illicit encounters with his uncle, Wilkinson said he suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder and chronic anxiety, conditions that interfere with his ability to function normally in everyday affairs. He said he has a job as a security guard and is taking college courses to become a history teacher, but he often has trouble concentrating.
He said he has been in therapy for many years and that it was his counselor’s idea to file a formal complaint about the sexual misconduct after nearly three decades.
“It had been weighing on me a lot for a number of years,” he says “My psychologist told me that to break free of this I should confront him, go to the authorities, go to the church and try to get some closure.”
Wilkinson said the health concerns the diocese alluded to in its official statement is probably a reference to diabetes, from which Gorton has long suffered.
Wilkinson said he has often run into his uncle over the years during family gatherings, but he has tried to avoid him.
The first improper encounter with his uncle in 1983 came while his parents were in the midst of a divorce, said Wilkinson. Gorton consoled him by inviting him for an overnight at the rectory of a church in Cumberland. Wilkinson says he was lying in bed when Gorton put his hands under his clothing and touched his buttocks.
Later, at the beach cottage in Narragansett, Wilkinson says Gorton invited him into a bedroom. When he went there, Gorton was exposing himself and asked him to do the same. Gorton told him not to tell anyone about what happened.
“I’m worried there might be other victims,” says Wilkinson. “Usually people who do these things to one person have hurt others.”
The church was enveloped in scandal after scandal about pedophile priests in the 1990s in locales across the country, including Woonsocket, Providence and Boston. A common accusation was that churches knowingly concealed knowledge of misbehavior among members of the clergy, who were sometimes transferred to other parishes rather than sanctioned, only to reoffend.
The Providence diocese’s handling of Wilkinson’s complaint seems to set a markedly different standard of conduct.
“It is the policy of the Diocese of Providence to urge any individual with credible information about sexual abuse of minors to report it to law enforcement officials and the Diocesan Office of Education and Compliance,” the statement released about Gorton concludes.
The letter Wilkinson received from church officials also struck a resounding note of appreciation.
“On behalf of the Most Rev. Bishop, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for bringing this matter forward, and hope that our actions bring some type of closure to these painful memories,” McCarthy told Wilkinson.
Detective Sgt. Matthew Sutton of the Narragansett Police Department said there are no charges pending against Gorton from his department and none are anticipated. Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais couldn’t be reached.

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