Clergy on the Cape

By Diogenes (articles ) | Oct 27, 2003

The Boston Globe carries a story on the connection of two priests to Paul Nolin, the alleged murderer of 20-year-old Jonathan Wessner:

Through his principal lawyer, Robert W. Nolan, Nolin has said that he was simply friends with [Fr. Bernard] Kelly and [Fr. Donald] Turlick. But authorities believe Kelly had a sexual relationship with Nolin, according to a law enforcement source. Proving such a relationship could help prosecutors pressure Kelly to reveal what Nolin told him after Wessner's death, statements that could be protected if Nolin approached the priest for spiritual guidance, legal specialists say. But Nolan and Nolin's other lawyer, Sean Murphy, insist the conversations are confidential regardless of Nolin's "personal relationship" with Kelly.

This story has a Chappaquiddick feel to it, in the sense that the principal parties (and their relations to one another) seem to get fuzzier and not clearer as the weeks go by. Not the least of the oddities obliquely suggested by the articles that have appeared to date is the surreal picture of clerical life on the Cape, of remarkably leisured gentlemen-priests holding dinner parties and swapping boyfriends and shimmering back and forth across the frontiers of the lay world and the ecclesial one. Turlick, bizarrely, has been on leave from the Diocese of Bridgeport since 1978, and yet is still held to be "in good standing" by his diocese. So too Fr. George Spagnolia, on leave from the Archdiocese of Boston for a twenty-year period from the early 1970s, ran a bed-and-breakfast on Cape Cod. When accusations of molesting a 14-year old boy surfaced in 2002, Spagnolia was forced to admit what he'd earlier denied, namely that he'd pursued a number of homosexual relationships over the years. His amours were reported to be an "open secret" on the Cape.

At a certain point, of course, one ceases to ask whether the relevant bishops know about the lifestyle choices of their clergy and begins to wonder instead if they even wish to know. Were Nolin not made notorious by murder, would any see fit to question the propriety of his conjunction with his priest-friends?

Turlick, 68, said in an interview that he believes Nolin's rehabilitation was successful, saying the ex-convict was "faithful to therapy." The priest said he helped Nolin as part of his duty to "see Christ in everyone."

Clear, I hope?

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  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 28, 2003 6:20 PM ET USA

    And Father, with all due respect, what do you think will ultimately happen within OUR Catholic Church if the good continue to pretend that "bad" simply does not exist and stubbornly refuse to rebuke it?

  • Posted by: - Oct. 27, 2003 9:38 PM ET USA

    Father Ethan: Cape Cod sounds lovely except for that whole homosexual sex ring/murder thing.

  • Posted by: John J Plick - Oct. 27, 2003 7:42 PM ET USA

    A relevant point,Perhaps you writers weren't aware of it,but last Sunday was officially designated "Priesthood Recognition Sunday."As circumstances would have it,I had the priviliege of going to not one,but two Masses at unfamiliar parishes,one in New Jersey and the other in NY at St. Pat's.The first priest dealt with the priesthood, both positive and negative,but his minimization of internal problems amazed me.The second priest,at the Cathedral, didn't mention problems at all.Gross denial...

  • Posted by: extremeCatholic - Oct. 27, 2003 2:00 PM ET USA

    I am by no means expert in canon law, but if I recall correctly a priest cannot absolve a person of a sin in which the priest has taken part and likewise the seal of the confessional doesn't apply to knowledge of this sin. If Nolin, Kelly, and Turlick committed homosexual acts with each other, these sins could not be absolved by themselves or bound to the seal by them.

  • Posted by: - Oct. 27, 2003 1:50 PM ET USA

    Hey, I'm a native Cape Codder and a priest of the Fall River Diocese. I never would have been a priest if it hadn't been for the great priests who served me and my family. There are twenty-five parishes on Cape Cod and many great pastors. I'm a Cape Codder and have never heard of Spagnola. I never knew a priest that served in my parish as a boy that was removed from ministry. Come to Cape Cod and meet all of us before you make your sweeping generalizations. God Bless, Father McCarthy