Letter to the Editor: Obituary for Robert Purcell 'disturbed us deeply'

To the Editor:

A recent obituary for Robert Purcell of Roxbury has disturbed us deeply, primarily out of empathy and concern for persons who may have suffered as a result of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy. The Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany discourages any celebration or publicity that would make reference to the former status as priest or deacon of a person who was removed from his ministerial position following the conclusion of an investigation into the allegation. While this does not preclude the celebration of a wake service, a funeral or a memorial Mass due any Catholic, the rites to be observed would not be those normally accorded members of the clergy. Thus a formerly active priest or deacon would not be attired in any clerical clothing or liturgical vestments. Eulogies are also to be avoided as well as any references in obituaries to titles or activities of such clergymen in their former ministerial positions. This would be highly insensitive to the persons who suffered from the abuse during their ministry.

Unfortunately, and to our deepest regret, this policy was not observed in a recent obituary of the late Robert Purcell. In point of fact, when several allegations regarding this individual came to our attention in 2010 he was immediately placed on administrative leave. After an investigation by the Albany Diocese found that there were reasonable grounds that sexual abuse of minors occurred, he was permanently removed from ministry in 2011. In addition, it should be stressed that a Mass held for him on Sunday in Roxbury was announced and conducted without the approval of the Bishop of Albany.

We feel it is very important that the record be corrected regarding this matter.

Ken Goldfarb
Director of Communications
Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany