By G. Jeffrey MacDonald, Correspondent
The Diocese of Western Massachusetts has reportedly received “devastating credible evidence” that priest-turned-kindergarten teacher Gregory Lisby sexually abused a teenager during his years in the priesthood.
In a Feb. 21 pastoral letter, Western Massachusetts Bishop Douglas Fisher informed his flock that the federal investigation had uncovered more about the man whom federal agents charged last fall with felony child pornography possession.
“We have also received devastating credible evidence that after he was ordained as a priest in 2007, Lisby sexually abused a teenager,” Fisher wrote.
The letter came out hours before Lisby was expected to plead guilty in federal court in Worcester to one felony count of child pornography possession. Lisby will remain in prison while he awaits sentencing, which could entail up to 20 years behind bars and a fine up to $250,000.
In light of Lisby’s change in plea, Fisher said a disciplinary process is underway to remove him from the priesthood.
“Even after he is released from prison,” Fisher wrote, “Lisby will not be permitted any contact with congregations in this diocese without my express permission.”
The Diocese of Western Massachusetts declined to say when the alleged sexual abuse took place, citing the victim’s privacy. Lisby served in the Diocese of Rhode Island between 2005 and 2010, as curate at St. Martin’s in Providence and rector at Church of the Ascension in Cranston, R.I. Calls to the Diocese of Rhode Island were not immediately returned.
The discovery of Lisby’s allegedly abusive past comes less than six months after Fisher penned a prior pastoral letter in response to Lisby’s arrest. In his September letter, Fisher acknowledged that the diocese had investigated Lisby and found no threat to children.
“Nothing I discovered during the disciplinary process gave me any reason to believe he was a danger to children,” Fisher wrote in September. “I have no reason to believe that children in our diocese have been victimized in this situation,” he added, referring to the child pornography case.
Lisby is married to the Rev. Timothy Burger, rector of St. Luke’s Church in Worcester. Fr. Burger “is in no way implicated in any of these charges,” Fisher wrote, and remains a priest in good standing as he takes steps to divorce Lisby.
In his new letter, Fisher characterized Lisby’s alleged behavior as sinful.
“I am deeply saddened to know that a priest is alleged to have committed such a grievous sin,” Fisher wrote, “and on behalf of the entire church, I offer my most heartfelt apology to the victim, the victim’s family and to everyone who’s trust in the church has been violated.”
The new allegations against Lisby reverberated Friday through communities that had known him as a local priest. In New Jersey, Lisby had served as rector of Christ Church, Ridgewood from 2010 through 2015.
“This shocking news has raised new concerns and has been deeply upsetting to the family of the child involved,” wrote Bishop of Newark Carlye Hughes in pastoral letter that went out Friday.
Lisby was working as a kindergarten teacher in the Holyoke Public Schools last September when federal agents received a tip that pornographic image depicting a child had been uploaded to his Microsoft OneDrive account. A search of the OneDrive turned up approximately 180 images and 15 videos of child pornography. Lisby resigned his teaching position the day after federal agents searched his home.
This story has been modified. An earlier version misstated when the abuse allegedly took place.