By Mark Michael
The Rev. Gregory Lisby, an Episcopal priest who was working as a kindergarten teacher was arrested Thursday on charges of possessing child pornography. FBI agents raided the Worcester, Mass. rectory that Lisby shares with his husband, the Rev. Timothy Burger, after discovering numerous pornographic images and videos in a digital account believed to be in Lisby’s name. According to court documents, he was charged with one count of possession of child pornography, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in federal prison.
Lisby was arraigned in federal court in Boston yesterday, and federal prosecutors argued against releasing him, claiming that the priest would be a flight risk and a danger to the community. The judge concurred, and Lisby will be held at least until his next court appearance in two weeks.
The FBI acted on a December 2018 tip from Microsoft to launch its investigation, tracing a file of digital images back to an IP address at the rectory of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Worcester, Mass. According to court documents, they obtained a search warrant on Wednesday giving them permission to search and seize all electronic devices and digital files connected to Lisby. So far, they have uncovered at least 180 images and 15 videos on an ipad, which purportedly show boys aged 8 to 12 engaging in sex acts.
Lisby resigned from his job as a kindergarten teacher at the Morgan School in Holyoke, Mass. just hours after the FBI raid. In an email to an unidentified school official, he wrote, “ Last night, I was accused of an awful crime that could put our Holyoke children in harms way.” He had only been working at the school since August. Lisby’s Linked-In profile indicated that he had worked as a preschool teacher, an instructional aid and a substitute teacher at a number of Worcester-area schools over the past year and a half. He had previously served churches in Massachusetts, New Jersey, and Rhode Island.
The Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher, Bishop of Western Massachusetts broke the news of Lisby’s arrest in a pastoral letter sent to all congregations under his care yesterday. Bishop Fisher noted that he had suspended Lisby from his position as rector of All Saints Episcopal Church in Worcester in 2018 for “an inappropriate relationship with an adult that did not involve sexual contact.” He also said that he was banning Lisby from all Episcopal Church property and that he would be subject to a canonical disciplinary investigation.
Fisher said of the diocesan investigation into Lisby’s previous wrongdoing, “nothing I discovered during the disciplinary process gave me any reason to believe he was a danger to children.” He added, “I have no reason to believe that children in our diocese have been victimized in this situation. Yet, I know that children whose images appear in pornography are heinously abused and violated by the adults who produce and consume it. This reality breaks my heart.”
Fisher urged prayers for Lisby and his family, concluding, “When trust has been violated, God’s people and God’s mission suffer.”