HAVERHILL — The Rev. Robert Conole will not be returning to his post as pastor of Sacred Hearts Church in Bradford.
Conole's resignation has been accepted by Cardinal Sean O'Malley, archbishop of Boston. He was investigated by the Archdiocese of Boston for "serious adult-related misconduct," according to a statement read by the Very Rev. Arthur Coyle, episcopal vicar for the Merrimack Valley Region, during weekend Masses at Sacred Hearts.
"I feel bad for Father Conole," said John Cartier, an active and longtime parishioner at Sacred Hearts. "I am not going to pass judgment on anybody."
As difficult as Conole's resignation is, Cartier said he and other parishioners need to "move forward." The Rev. John Delaney, currently pastor of St. Michael Church in North Andover, will become the new pastor of Sacred Hearts on April 11.
Cartier said he's optimistic about Delaney's tenure at his new parish.
Conole's resignation comes less than two years after another Haverhill priest, the Rev. Keith LeBlanc, resigned as pastor of St. John the Baptist Church following a probe by archdiocese into financial improprieties at the parish. LeBlanc admitted spending $83,000 of church money on pornographic movies and was put on probation for three years after pleading guilty to larceny.
Conole, who had served as pastor of Sacred Hearts since 2005, left the parish in May. At the time, Terrence Donilon, spokesman for the archdiocese, said Conole was taking the leave to deal with personal issues and seek counseling.
Coyle, however, said that after the investigation was concluded in November, Conole offered his resignation to O'Malley.
Shortly afterward, Conole suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and was hospitalized. His condition has improved in recent weeks, Coyle said.
Coyle read the statement at the end of the 4 p.m. Mass yesterday. He warned worshippers that it was of a "sensitive nature" and might not be suitable for younger children.
A few parents with children left the sanctuary. After Coyle finished reading the statement, people in the congregation, many attired in green for St. Patrick's Day, showed little, if any, outward reaction to the news. Several parishioners questioned by The Eagle-Tribune declined to talk about the matter and referred inquiries to Coyle,
The episcopal vicar said only Donilon could speak about the issue. One woman who spoke to Coyle said simply, "He's human."
Attempts to reach Conole last night were unsuccessful.
Conole, a highly skilled woodworker who taught the craft to middle school students, changed careers and was ordained in 1991. His first assignment was at St. Monica Church, Methuen, where he served as parochial vicar. The son of a Dracut firefighter, he was also chaplain to the Methuen Fire Department.
He was transferred to St. Michael Church, Hudson, where he also served as parochial vicar, or assistant pastor, in 1997.
After serving as temporary administrator of Our Lady of Hope Church in Ipswich, he was assigned to St. Francis of Assisi in Braintree, again as parochial vicar. He was named pastor of Sacred Hearts in 2005.
The Catholic parishes of Haverhill have faced some very difficult events during the last several years. At Sacred Hearts, Conole replaced the Rev. Michael Randone, who was fired as chaplain at Central Catholic High School and resigned as pastor after it was revealed that he had sent computer messages to students, in violation of a school policy.
Kelvin Iguabita was convicted in 2003 of sexually abusing Faith Johnston in the church rectory of All Saints Parish, where she worked weekends. Iguabita served as a priest at All Saints Parish from 1999 to 2001. Johnston gave the media permission to use her name.
Iguabita was defrocked as a priest in 2005. After he completes the 12-to-14-year prison term he's now serving, Iguabita will be deported to his native Colombia.
After details emerged about LeBlanc's theft, Conole spoke about parishioners' ability to retain fait in their priests.
"I think we have to come to terms with the fact that the church on Earth is imperfect, and the church in Heaven is perfect," Conole told The Eagle-Tribune in 2010. "I think at various times all of us are broken people. The way we restore that brokenness is through God's grace."
"As you are well aware, Father Conole has been away from the parish since last May. Father's absence was due to an investigation by the Archdiocese of Boston of serious adult-related misconduct which did not occur during Father Conole's pastorate in Bradford. The investigation was completed in November and Father Conole offered his resignation to Cardinal O'Malley on Nov. 22, 2011. Shortly after that Father Conole became seriously ill. Since then Father's condition has improved, but he will not be returning to ministry."
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