‘It was a violent incident’

— Attorney says Father Jay Mello has other sexual abuse victims

Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery stands outside the Diocese of Fall River's headquarters and the residence of Bishop Edgar da Cunha on Highland Avenue on June 26, 2024, to talk about allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Jay Mello.
Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery stands outside the Diocese of Fall River’s headquarters and the residence of Bishop Edgar da Cunha on Highland Avenue on June 26, 2024, to talk about allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Jay Mello.

By Dan Medeiros

A prominent city priest currently on leave pending a Diocese of Fall River investigation into “sexual misconduct” has also been accused of sexual assault by at least one other person, and there may be others, an attorney for the alleged victim said. 

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who has represented multiple victims of clergy sexual abuse, claimed that in 2013 the Rev. Jay Mello sexually abused a 28-year-old man.

“He trusted Father Mello, and Father Mello took advantage of him sexually,” said Garabedian via teleconference at a press conference held outside the headquarters of the Diocese of Fall River on Highland Avenue. “There was no consent in this sexual relationship. It was a violent incident … and my client fled.”

Mello, the pastor of St. Michael and St. Joseph parishes in Fall River and the pastor of the pre-K to Grade 8 St. Michael’s School, was placed on leave on Friday while it investigates a more recent claim of what the diocese termed “sexual misconduct.” Mello is no longer living at the St. Michael’s parish rectory and cannot participate in priestly duties during the investigation.

The diocese said this investigation does not involve a minor, and that Mello has denied the allegations.

Mello has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Claim: Mello sexually assaulted a man in 2013, and there may have been others

Garabedian’s client is not the same victim involved in the recent charges.

Garabedian said the alleged abuse occurred in the rectory at St. Francis Xavier Church in Acushnet. At the time, Mello was assigned to St. Patrick Church in Falmouth, but was covering for another priest in Acushnet.

He said his client met Mello at a convocation at Sacred Hearts Retreat Center in Wareham in the early 2010s. He claimed Mello and his client had “common interests” in cooking, and in 2013 Mello invited him to St. Francis Xavier to talk about it further.

“That’s when the sexual abuse took place.”

As for the nature of the assault, Garabedian said, “It was forceful, and that’s all I’ll say at this point.”

ST. Michael's Church on Essex St. in Fall River Thursday June 13, 2024.
ST. Michael’s Church on Essex St. in Fall River Thursday June 13, 2024.

Garabedian said his client reported that incident to the diocese.

“My client spoke directly to Bishop [George] Coleman about the sexual abuse,” he said. “My client, after the interview with Bishop Coleman, never heard from Bishop Coleman again.”

Bishop [George] Coleman
Garabedian claimed that his client also reported the incident to the Acushnet Police Department, and it’s “unclear” why it was not investigated; that department has not yet responded to a request verifying whether such a report was filed.

Garabedian said 10 years later, in 2023, his client again met with “an investigator for the church,” at which time the client claimed that he knew of two other people who Mello had also had inappropriate contact with.

Garabedian said this second attempt at initiating an investigation also did not see results.

The Rev. Jay Mello, chaplain of the Fall River Police Department, gives the benediction at Fall River's inauguration of municipal officers Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2024 at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River.
The Rev. Jay Mello, chaplain of the Fall River Police Department, gives the benediction at Fall River’s inauguration of municipal officers Tuesday, Jan. 3, 2024 at B.M.C. Durfee High School in Fall River.

“This is another example of the Diocese of Fall River and the Catholic Church practicing coverup of sexual abuse and not caring about the victims of sexual abuse,” Garabedian said.

Garabedian said his client may not be able to file a lawsuit against the diocese or Mello.

“It appears as though the statute of limitations has run — and that’s a whole other topic where the statute of limitations in Massachusetts has to be amended so that victims of sexual abuse can file claims when they need to,” he said.

He urged people who have inappropriate contact with members of the clergy to speak with police first.

Robert Hoatson, a former priest in Newark, New Jersey, and the co-founder and president of sexual abuse support group Road to Recovery, stood outside the home of Bishop Edgar da Cunha on Highland Avenue and advocated for similar action.

“I urge everybody in Fall River who was ever abused or used or groomed by this man, Father Jay Mello, to please go to the police … and report it,” Hoatson said.

“Do not go near the Catholic Church for anything, because you will only get the corruption that is rampant within.”

A statue of Mary stands outside the Diocese of Fall River's headquarters on Highland Avenue on June 26, 2024.
A statue of Mary stands outside the Diocese of Fall River’s headquarters on Highland Avenue on June 26, 2024.

Diocese won’t comment on specifics; urges victims to reach out

The Diocese of Fall River would not comment on the specifics of Garabedian’s allegations.

“While the investigation continues, the Diocese is not able to provide additional comment on the case,” read a statement from Director of Communications John Kearns. “At the conclusion of the investigation, all information including any allegations will be presented to the Ministerial Review Board for evaluation.”

According to the Diocese, the board is a group of both laypeople and clergy who “serve as a confidential, consultative body to advise the Bishop regarding alleged misconduct by clergy, regardless of when that misconduct is alleged to have occurred, including misconduct relating to the sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult as well as other forms of misconduct.”

According to a document revised May 2023, the board comprises nine members, at least five of whom are appointed by the bishop to five-year terms.

The Diocese’s stated that “anyone with concerns regarding the conduct of any priest, staff, or volunteer affiliated with the diocese [should] contact law enforcement and/or Carolyn Shipp, the Diocesan Director of Safe Environment and Victim Assistance at 508-985-6508, by email at cshipp@dioc-fr.org or on our website at https://www.fallriverdiocese.org/safe-environment/report-an-incident-of-abuse.”

Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery stands outside the Diocese of Fall River's headquarters on Highland Avenue on June 26, 2024, to talk about allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Jay Mello.
Robert Hoatson of Road to Recovery stands outside the Diocese of Fall River’s headquarters on Highland Avenue on June 26, 2024, to talk about allegations of sexual abuse against the Rev. Jay Mello.

Mello resigns from Diman school board

In 2019, Mello was appointed the chaplain for the Fall River Police Department. Since he cannot perform public priestly duties during the investigation, he cannot serve in that capacity.

Mello, a Diman Regional Vocational Technical High School graduate, also served on its regional school board. Mayor Paul Coogan confirmed on Wednesday that he spoke with Mello, and that Mello sent him his resignation from the board that morning.

“I said I think that’s better for the school and the district,” Coogan said, citing the misconduct allegations and investigation as a distraction from the business of running the vocational school district.

Coogan said he told Mello that he would be happy to speak with him later on, if Mello were cleared of the allegations and wanted to serve the city in another capacity.

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