Friday, January 28, 2011

Priest on trial

http://www.berkshireeagle.cAccused priest to face trial
By Conor Berry, Berkshire Eagle Staff,
Updated: 01/28/2011 12:07:30 AM EST


Friday January 28, 2011
PITTSFIELD -- Jury selection is scheduled to begin Monday in the trial of a Roman Catholic priest accused of assaulting two boys in the Berkshires in the 1980s.

The Rev. Gary Mercure ministered to Catholics in New York’s Albany and Warren counties, where he came under fire for allegedly sexually assaulting several boys but was never charged. The statute of limitations for bringing criminal charges against Mercure had already expired by the time the accusations came to light, and New York authorities were unable to hold the priest criminally responsible.

Because Massachusetts has a longer statute of limitations, New York authorities assisted Berkshire County investigators seeking to hold Mercure accountable for alleged Massachusetts crimes. The priest is accused of assaulting two boys, now in their 30s, in Great Barrington, Monterey and New Ashford in the mid to late 1980s, according to police and prosecutors.

Authorities said the crimes occurred between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 1986, and Feb. 1 and Feb. 28, 1989. The alleged victims were from the Glens Falls, N.Y., area, and Mercure is accused of taking them on trips to Berkshire County to sexually assault them, according to authorities.

Mercure has been accused of similar crimes in Warren County, although those cases could not be prosecuted in New York due to the vintage of the allegations. Such crimes generally must be prosecuted within five years of commission.

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Albany Diocese placed Mercure on administrative leave in early 2008 and later relieved him of all religious duties as a priest.
He was indicted by a Berkshire grand jury in October 2008 and arraigned the following month in Berkshire Superior Court, where he denied charges of forcible child rape and indecent assault and battery on a child younger than 14. During that proceeding, Mercure was deprived of the titular honor of his vocation when court officials referred to him merely as "Mr. Mercure" -- not "reverend" or "father," the traditional title for a priest.

After further investigation, Mercure was suspended "from all ministry" in August 2008, said Ken Goldfarb, a spokesman for the Albany Diocese. That meant Mercure could no longer celebrate Mass, appear publicly as a priest, or perform other church sacraments, Goldfarb said.

Mercure’s trial is finally getting under way in Berkshire Superior Court, following a series of adjournments. The case originally was scheduled to be heard in July 2010, but was postponed until September then November until this month’s date was selected.

"We’re getting started Monday morning," said Berkshire First Assistant District Attorney Paul J. Caccaviello, who will prosecute the case with assistance from Assistant District Attorney Marianne Shelvey.

Picking a jury for the trial could take some time, however, considering the amount of media attention the case has received in New York and Massachusetts. Potential jurors who are familiar with a case typically are dismissed from a jury pool.

Mercure, 62, who is free on personal recognizance, faces possible life imprisonment if convicted. His attorney, Michael O. Jennings of Springfield, did not return a call seeking comment Thursday.

The investigations were conducted by Massachusetts State Police detectives assigned to the office of Berkshire District Attorney David F. Capeless.

Mark Lyman, director of the Albany area chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), claims Mercure abused at least a dozen Albany-area men when they were minors. SNAP is a national support group for victims of clergy abuse.

Goldfarb, in 2008 remarks to The Eagle, emphasized that the "oft repeated claim" that Mercure victimized a dozen men when they were minors "is just that -- a claim." The Albany Diocese "has not received that many complaints concerning this priest. That figure, perhaps while widely reported, has come solely from Mr. Lyman and his associates," Goldfarb said.

Lyman, during an impromptu press conference held outside the Berkshire County Courthouse following Mercure’s November 2008 arraignment, said the New York priest is accused of serious crimes, not personnel matters that can be swept under the rug by the Catholic Church.

"These are felonies. These are not canonical issues to be handled by church leaders," Lyman said.
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