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    Monday, July 22, 2024

    Daniel Reilly, former bishop of Norwich, Worcester dioceses, dies at 96

    Former Bishop of Worcester, Mass., Daniel Reilly, left, speaks at a news conference with, from left, his successor Bishop-elect Robert J. McManus, auxiliary Bishop George Rueger and Monsignor Stephen Pedone, Tuesday, March 9, 2004 at the Chancery in Worcester. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)
    Worcester Bishop Daniel P. Reilly, right, speaks in front of the Judiciary Committee in the Massachusetts Statehouse in Boston, Thursday, Oct. 23, 2003, during a hearing on the legalization of gay marriage, as Rev. Kris Mineau, left, of North Reading, Mass., looks on. (AP Photo/Chitose Suzuki)

    Bishop Daniel Reilly, retired bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Worcester, Mass., whose previous tenure as bishop of Norwich was marred by subsequent allegations of clergy sexual abuse of children, died Tuesday night.

    He was 96.

    Reilly’s death was first reported Wednesday by The Catholic Free Press, a publication of the Diocese of Worcester.

    Reilly served as bishop of the Diocese of Norwich from 1975 to 1994 before being assigned to the larger Worcester diocese, where he served as bishop until his retirement in 2004.

    During his tenure in Worcester, allegations of sexual misconduct by priests in the Norwich diocese while he was in charge there came to light. In 2021, the diocese, facing lawsuits filed by 60 young men who alleged they’d been raped and sexually assaulted by a Christian Brother and staff at a diocesan school in Deep River from 1990 to 2002, as well as other sexual assault lawsuits, filed for bankruptcy as it faced the possibility of paying millions of dollars in damages.

    Reilly had served as the president of the Mount Saint John Academy’s board of trustees during the period of the alleged assaults at the school. In addition, the Norwich diocese under Reilly had asked for the Christian Brother who was accused in the assaults to be transferred from Australia.

    About 50 priests and staff from the Norwich Diocese have been accused of sexual assault and the diocese is thought to have paid out at least $10 million in settlements before the bankruptcy filing. Reilly had also been accused on multiple occasions of transferring priests accused of sexual assault to new parishes where more assaults took place.

    A popular bishop

    Dennis Riley, a Norwich resident who was a neighbor of Reilly’s when he was bishop in Norwich, remembered him Thursday as extremely popular with parishioners.

    “I thought he did a good job expanding the diocese,” Riley said. “He was a great homilist ― to the point, always with a good message. When I was on the St. Bernard (school) board, he was very supportive of St. Bernard.”

    Riley said he had spoken the night before to a son who recalled Reilly playing baseball with parish youths in the schoolyard.

    “There was some opposition to that before he got here,” Riley said. “He put up screens. He played football with them, too.”

    Reilly was known for his friendly personality and quick wit, which made him popular with the region’s Catholics.

    He was known to sing “Danny Boy” at the annual St. Patrick’s Day celebration in Norwich and he greeted the crowds at the annual Blessing of the Fleet in Stonington as he walked from St. Mary Church to the fishing docks. And when he when he left the diocese in 1994 to go to Worcester, more than 1,200 people packed St. Patrick Cathedral in Norwich to watch him celebrate his final Mass here. Afterwards, they stood in a long line to hug him and wish him well.

    Riley, a former newspaperman who served on Norwich boards and commissions and worked for U.S. Rep. Sam Gejdenson, acknowledged that Reilly’s reputation suffered after he left his Norwich post.

    “He ran into some difficulties later,” Riley said. “That Deep River situation clouded his tenure.”

    The 60 young men who filed suits against the diocese alleged they’d been raped and sexually assaulted as boys by Christian Brothers and other staff at Mount Saint John Academy, a residential school for troubled boys.

    Last year, as part of its bankruptcy case, the Norwich diocese auctioned off the St. Bernard School property it owned in Montville to raise funds for payments to survivors of sexual abuse. The bankruptcy case is pending.

    Reilly would be named a defendant in multiple suits alleging priests accused of sexual misconduct were reassigned to other parishes during his time as a high-ranking church official in Providence and Norwich.

    “He was the bishop when a lot of the abuse occurred,” Gail Howard, a leader of the Connecticut chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, said of Reilly. “He did not seem to understand there would have to be some kind of accountability. He was an old-school Catholic bishop who thought he could keep putting people off.”

    The Most Rev. Robert McManus, Bishop of Worcester, issued a statement following Reilly’s death.

    “This week the Catholic faithful of the Diocese of Worcester have lost a great champion of the faith,” he said. “Bishop Daniel Reilly led this diocese at times of great joy as we entered into a new millennium, and offered the pastoral care of the Good Shepherd in times of sorrow, including the tragic loss of life in the Worcester Cold Storage and Warehouse fire and outreach to victims of sexual abuse as he implemented the Charter for the Protection of children and young people.

    “His pastoral zeal and his indomitable spirit relied on his trust in God and living his episcopal motto, ‘In Kindness and in Truth.’ I ask the faithful to join me in praying for the repose of his soul, that God may welcome this good and faithful servant into eternal joy in heaven.”

    The Norwich diocese, which posted notice of Reilly’s death as well as his full obituary on its website, issued no statement.

    Born and ordained in Providence

    According to The Catholic Free Press, Reilly, one of nine children, was born in Providence on May 12, 1928, the son of Francis E. and Mary A. (Burns) Reilly.

    He attended St. Michael’s Parish School in Providence, and studied for the priesthood at Our Lady of Providence Seminary in Warwick, R.I., from 1943 to 1948, and at the Grand Seminaire, St. Brieuc, France, from 1948 to 1953.

    He was ordained a priest on May 30, 1953 in the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul in Providence, and was appointed associate pastor there in June 1953.

    He studied at Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration and Boston College School of Business Administration.

    He was appointed assistant chancellor of the Diocese of Providence in September 1954, and was named secretary to the bishop in September 1956 and chancellor of the diocese in 1964. He attended two sessions of the Second Vatican Council during 1962 and 1964.

    On Jan. 29, 1965, he was named a domestic prelate with the title of right reverend monsignor by Pope Paul VI. He served as administrator of the Diocese of Providence from August 1971 to January 1972 and was appointed vicar general of the diocese in April 1972.

    Pope Paul VI named him Bishop of Norwich on June 17, 1975. He was ordained and installed as bishop Aug. 6, 1975 in the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich.

    A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11 a.m. Wednesday at the Cathedral of St. Paul in Worcester. It will be live-streamed at worcesterdiocese.org. Reilly will be buried at St. Ann Cemetery, 72 Church St., Cranston, R.I.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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