PITTSFIELD — District Attorney David F. Capeless announced yesterday that his office will prosecute a former Roman Catholic priest accused of raping two children in the Berkshires in the 1980s.
Gary Mercure, who avoided prosecution after coming under fire in the Albany, N.Y., clergy abuse scandal, now faces sexual assault charges in the Berkshires, where two men in their early 30s claim the priest forcibly raped them in 1986 and 1989. The circumstances surrounding the alleged incidents were unclear.
Mercure, 60, was indicted this month by a Berkshire grand jury on four felony counts, including three counts of rape of a child with force — a crime punishable by possible life imprisonment — and indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.
He is scheduled to be arraigned in Berkshire Superior Court on Nov. 18 at 2 p.m.
Albany Roman Catholic Diocese officials permanently removed Mercure as a diocesan priest in August. According to the Associated Press, the officials cited "reasonable grounds" to support an allegation of abuse involving "misconduct with a minor" at an Albany parish in the mid-1980s.
Frederick A. Lantz, a spokesman for Capeless, declined to comment on the rape cases, which involve incidents that allegedly occurred in Great Barrington and Monterey between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, 1986, and a New Ashford incident in February 1989.
Both alleged victims are from the
Albany area, according to Mark Lyman, director of the (Albany) Capital Region Chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, a national support group for clergy abuse victims.
"We are pleased to see that the victims have someone who is not partisan and who has decided to pursue justice for them," Lyman said of Capeless. "We're very pleased."
More than a dozen men who live in the 14-county Albany diocese have reported being victimized by Mercure, according to Lyman, a Troy, N.Y., native who was abused by a priest when he was a teenager.
Under New York law, a person who was raped or molested as a child can report that crime for up to 7 years after reaching the age of 18, Lyman said. However, he added, because victims are often reluctant to report the abuse, few priests implicated in the ongoing U.S. Catholic clergy abuse scandal have been charged with offenses.
Lyman said law enforcement officials in New York contacted investigators in Massachusetts, where the statute of limitations for such cases is longer than it is in New York. Lyman helped facilitate the Massachusetts State Police investigation by putting troopers in touch with Mercure's alleged Berkshire victims, he said.
Window for justice
Under Massachusetts law, rape cases must be brought within 15 years of the incident being reported to law enforcement or, in the case of a child, 15 years of the accuser's 16th birthday, whichever comes first.
"Once the window closes, there's no way for a victim to obtain justice," Lyman said.
But what most irks him, he said, is the Catholic church's seeming ability to shelter priests who, under different circumstances, would be treated as common criminals.
"If this were a cop or anyone else, he'd be stripped of his badge and gun and put on desk duty," Lyman said. "Those people would be fired from their jobs and ostracized."
'It's still going on'
In the case of Mercure, the Albany diocese defrocked him, meaning he was stripped of his parish duties, including his ability to publicly celebrate Mass or perform other church sacraments dressed as a priest. But Mercure was not excommunicated from the church, said Lyman, which, for a lay person, is equivalent to being fired from a job and losing all benefits associated with that job.
"The scary thing is that the cover-up is still going on," Lyman said, despite the glare of the media, which has made the scandal a high-profile issue for much of this decade.
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