Accusations leave Troy congregation in shock

Allegations of sexual misconduct, discussed in church, have parishioners at Sacred Heart at a loss

Section: Capital Region,  Page: B1

Date: Monday, January 21, 2008

TROY - A wave of shock spread through Sacred Heart church Sunday morning as the congregation was told its priest is accused of having sexually molested a teenager in the 1980s.

The church was quiet as the Rev. Ronald Menty told the parishioners, some of whom were learning of the charges for the first time, why the Rev. Gary Mercure had not led the 11 a.m. Mass. Mercure is on a paid leave of absence from the ministry pending an investigation into an allegation of sexual misconduct in the mid-1980s, according to the Albany Roman Catholic Diocese.

Parents got up with their children to take them out of the church during Sunday's announcement. One young mother bowed her head and shook it from side to side upon hearing the news. Other parishioners dabbed their eyes. Most sat silent.

Christa Pohlmann was astonished by the allegations, which she heard moments after receiving Communion.

Pohlman, who has attended the church for 25 years, said there is no excuse for behavior that harms children, but stressed that it was too soon to rush to judgment.

As the news sunk in, she said she would focus on reconciliation rather than condemnation.

"The Bible teaches us to forgive," she said. "If you are Christian, that is the first obligation."

Menty, administrative advocate for the diocese, read aloud a letter from Albany Bishop Howard J. Hubbard in which he told the congregation that he was including them in his prayers.

The diocese is investigating Mercure for an allegation of sexual misconduct involving a teenage boy in the 1980s.

Mercure was associate pastor of Our Lady of the Annunciation in Queensbury at the time of the alleged incidents. After the diocese was informed of the allegation against him on Jan. 11, it notified officials in other area parishes Mercure has served since his ordination 33 years ago. Those include Our Lady of the Assumption, St. Teresa of Avila in Albany, St. Mary's in Glens Falls and St. Mary's in Clinton Heights.

Mark Lyman, upstate coordinator for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, a national organization that provides assistance to those abused by clergy, questioned why it took so long for the diocese to reveal the allegations against Mercure.

Lyman said his organization learned of the accusations two years ago.

He said the case highlighted the ineffectiveness of a system that allows dioceses to conduct investigations of their own priests.

Spokesman Ken Goldfarb acknowledged that a complaint was filed against Mercure about a decade ago by an adult male over an "adult situation." He said "appropriate action" was taken at that time. He would not specify the nature of the allegation nor the discipline.

He said the diocese had provided support to that accuser.

Sacred Heart pastor emeritus the Rev. James J. Vaughn offered a prayer for his colleague at the end of Mass.

Church officials held a private meeting after Mass to discuss the incident. Parishioners emerging from that session would not comment to a reporter.

Goldfarb said it has not yet been determined who will say the Mass in Mercure's absence.

He said the investigation by the diocese's Sexual Misconduct Review Board is expected to take months to complete. That board will make a recommendation to Hubbard once its review is finished.

Scott Waldman can be reached at 454-5080 or by e-mail at