Retired New Bedford, Fall River Priest Suspended After Sex Abuse Allegations
FALL RIVER — Another priest from the Diocese of Fall River has been suspended due to allegations of sexual abuse of a minor.
The Diocese today announced the suspension of retired priest Father Herbert T. Nichols for an allegation of sexual abuse of a minor, alleged to have occurred approximately 20 years ago. The decision to suspend him was made based on information learned from a review of the personnel files of diocesan priests.
The allegation, which Father Nichols denies, is under investigation by the Diocese.
As a retired priest, he was not assigned to any parish but did help with the celebration of Masses in various parishes since retirement, including with the Maronite community within the Diocese. His suspension precludes him from all ministry until the investigation is completed and a determination on the matter is made.
Father Nichols was ordained in 1975 and served many local parish assignments before his retirement in 2015, including the St. Anne and St. Bernadette parishes in Fall River, as well as at St. James, Our Lady of Guadalupe and St. Anthony of Padua in New Bedford. He also served in parishes in Raynham, Taunton and Orleans.
Last year, the Fall River Diocese hired an independent consultant to complete a comprehensive evaluation of its priestly personnel files, and Bishop Edgar M. da Cunha, S.D.V. informed parishioners that a list of credibly accused clergy would follow. The Diocese suspended some priests in response to information gathered during the file evaluation pending further investigation, as required under its policies.
In May of 2019, the Diocese announced the removal of Father Bruce Neylon, pastor of Holy Trinity Church in Fall River, from active ministry due to allegations of inappropriate sexual conduct with a teenage boy in the early 1980s.
Then in November, Father Daniel W. Lacroix, co-pastor at St. Joseph-St. Therese, St. Mary and Our Lady of Fatima Parishes in New Bedford, and Father Richard E. Degagne, pastor of Immaculate Conception Parish in Easton, were placed on administrative leave pending further investigation of both cases of alleged misconduct by external investigators.
This past week, the Diocese announced the suspension of two other retired priests suspected of sexually abusing minors decades ago. They were identified as Father James F. Buckley, who served in Fall River, North Easton, Orleans, Vineyard Haven, Buzzards Bay and Chatham, and Father Edward J. Byington, who served in Attleboro, Fall River, Taunton, Westport, Seekonk, Hyannis and Somerset.
“The task of evaluating all of the files and the response needed on our part as a result of the findings have, regretfully, taken more time than first thought,” said Bishop da Cunha. “It is crucial that we take the time and perform the diligence necessary to compile a list that is accurate and complete, and we continue to do so.”
“I understand that these recent announcements regarding the suspensions of priests are upsetting to our diocesan community of faith and often bring renewed pain to victims of sexual abuse especially victims of sexual abuse by clergy,” added Bishop da Cunha. “I continue to pray for our brothers and sisters who have suffered greatly.”
As part of ongoing efforts to improve its Office of Safe Environment, the Diocese recently hired Carolyn Shipp, a licensed social worker, to focus on pastoral outreach to victims/survivors.
“As a social worker, I am here to listen to anyone with concerns and to connect survivors to the resources they need,” said Shipp.
Anyone with information that they wish to raise regarding the conduct of any past or present member of the Diocese is encouraged to contact Carolyn Shipp, the Diocese’s Victim Assistance Coordinator, at (508) 985-6508 or firstname.lastname@example.org.