By Paul Leighton
MARBLEHEAD — A retired Episcopal priest from Marblehead has been removed from the priesthood after a church investigation into allegations that he abused children in separate incidents 20 years apart.
Franklin E. Huntress Jr., 77, voluntarily resigned rather than face a church trial conducted by officials of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, a diocese official said. Bishop Thomas Shaw officially removed Huntress from the priesthood on Feb. 11.
Church members at St. Michael's in Marblehead and Church of the Holy Name in Swampscott, where Huntress has served in his retirement, were notified of the decision after church services this month.
"The churches are reeling from this," the Rev. Canon Mally Lloyd of the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts said. "It's really hard on people."
Huntress declined to comment, referring questions to the diocese.
"I'll leave it all in their hands," he said. "I have nothing to say."
The investigation into Huntress began after Bishop Shaw's office received a complaint last October from a person who reported being sexually abused as a child by Huntress in 1974. Lloyd said she does not know where the abuse allegedly occurred.
An investigation by Shaw's office into that allegation uncovered the fact that Huntress had been arrested on charges of child sexual abuse in England in 1994, Lloyd said.
Lloyd said no charges were filed against Huntress in that case because the family did not want the child to testify. But church investigators concluded the allegations were true after reading the police report and speaking to the officers involved, Lloyd said.
At that point, Huntress was given a choice of facing further investigation and a church trial or resigning his priesthood. He chose to resign, Lloyd said. After a three-day period when Huntress could have changed his mind, Shaw "deposed" Huntress, removing him from the priesthood.
Lloyd said the diocese sent letters to priests and lay leaders of its 185 congregations in eastern Massachusetts and Cape Cod informing them of Huntress' removal. It also sent a "pastoral response team" to Church of the Holy Name in Swampscott and St. Michael's in Marblehead to talk with church members about Huntress.
"Responses range from anger and disbelief to gratification that action is taken and there is transparency and openness," Lloyd said. "We've found over the years that when this happens, the healing throughout the congregation comes about through openness about what went on. We're just in the beginning process of that."
The Rev. Mark Templeman, rector of Church of the Holy Name, declined to comment. The Rev. Andrew Stoessel, rector of St. Michael's in Marblehead, could not be reached for comment.
Diocese officials said they notified the Middlesex County district attorney's office and child protection services about the allegation from 1974 against Huntress. Lloyd said the statute of limitations has expired, so there will be no criminal charges.
Huntress has served at 12 churches, including four in England, since becoming a priest in 1962.
In Massachusetts, he served at St. Paul's in Malden from 1962 to '65, St. Martin's in New Bedford from 1985 to '91, All Saints in Dorchester from 1995 to 2002, and Church of the Advent in Boston from 1998 to 2001.
He has been "loosely associated" with St. Michael's in Marblehead and Holy Name in Swampscott in his retirement, occasionally serving at the altar but not on staff, Lloyd said. Huntress is not married.
Lloyd said church officials know of no other charges or allegations against Huntress, "but we take this very seriously and if there were an inkling, we would follow it up."
Huntress is the ninth man to be removed from the priesthood in the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts for sexual misconduct since 1990, according to the diocese. Six were for misconduct with adults, and three, including Huntress, were for misconduct involving minors.
Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.