Sex abuse allegation leads to removal of Cairo priest 14, 2003
By Teresa Masterson

Albany -- The associate pastor for Sacred Heart Parish in Cairo was among two priests removed from ministry last week in the Roman Catholic Albany Diocese because of allegations of sexual abuse of minors during the 1970s.

The congregations at five churches in the Diocese were told of the action during Palm Sunday Mass.

Bishop Howard Hubbard announced Sunday that the Rev. Sean McMahon, 69, associate pastor of Sacred Heart Parish in Cairo, was permanently removed from public ministry on the recommendation of the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Panel.

According to the Rev. Kenneth Doyle, chancellor for public information for the Albany Diocese, McMahon was accused of one allegation of sexual abuse of a minor in the 1970s. McMahon did not contest the allegation, said Doyle.

McMahon was removed from ministry at the end of last week and he had already left Sacred Heart Parish by the time Albany Diocesan officials announced his dismissal to parishioners at weekend Masses. McMahon could not be reached for comment.

"The Diocese is determined that no priest will ever function in ministry again that has abused a child, no matter how long ago it happened," said Doyle. "That is what this process has been designed to insure."

According to Sacred Heart's pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Nunan, parishioners were shocked at the news as it was announced during the four weekend Masses. He said that the victim was from the church's congregation in the 1970s.

Nunan said that many groups of parishioners took advantage of counselors from Catholic Charities that were available to the public after each Mass. Nunan said that some parishioners were in denial, as McMahon was well-loved and respected in the community.

"(Parishioners) were shocked and saddened. It was news that they didn't want to hear, but we have to face up to these things as they happen," said Nunan. "I feel sad for the victim and also for the priest involved. We must face these things, accept them, and go from there."

Nunan, who has worked with McMahon since Nunan became pastor of the parish 23 years ago, said that many parishioners called him to say that the allegation against McMahon was never their experience with the priest. Nunan said that the parish will bring in a professional counselor in the next few weeks for members of the congregation who need to talk.

"Priests working with young people are more careful today than before," said Nunan. "We need to respect (young people) and keep a safe distance."

McMahon, a native of County Kerry, Ireland, was ordained for the priesthood in 1962. He has worked as an associate pastor in the Albany Diocese since 1963 in Johnstown, Troy, Whitehall and Schenectady, as well as the Cairo parish, where he has served since June of 1974.

Also removed from ministry in the past week by the Albany Diocese was the Rev. John F. Connolly, 67, chaplain for diocesan cemeteries and interim chairman of the Priests' Retirement Board. Connolly has been placed on administrative leave and removed from ministry while the panel continues an investigation of two claims against him, Hubbard said. Connolly has denied both allegations.

Connolly, a native to Albany, was ordained in 1964 and served as an assistant pastor in parishes in Rotterdam Junction, Albany and Menands. He was the diocesan director of vocations from 1967 to 1969. He then served as principal of St. Peter's Academy in Saratoga Springs until 1972 and was then principal of Cardinal McCloskey High School in Albany from 1972 to 1976. He later served as pastor at three other parishes.

The announcement of the removal of the two priests was made at parishes where they most recently served: Sacred Heart in Cairo, Holy Cross in Albany, Our Lady of Victory in Troy, Our Lady of Fatima in Delanson, and St. Anne's in Waterford.

According to Doyle, the allegations against both priests were past the statute of limitations for criminal charges and therefore the investigation was handled by a former state police Bureau of Criminal Investigation officer who was hired by the diocese.

Doyle said that in such cases that are past the statute of limitations, the diocese's investigator interviews alleged victims, the accused priests and gathers evidence that he then presents to the Diocesan Sexual Misconduct Panel, made up of lay people who do not work for the diocese. The panel makes recommendations and Hubbard makes the final decision for removal.

The removals bring the number of priests removed from ministry or placed on administrative leave to 10 in the Albany Diocese since June 2002, when the U.S. Catholic bishops adopted a zero tolerance policy for clergy who sexually abused children. The Rev. John Patrick Bertolucci, a Greene County native who was one of the priests banned in 2002, was pastor of a parish in Latham.

The Albany Diocese, comprised of 14 counties, has about 200 active priests serving more than 400,000 parishioners.

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