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Western Massachusetts priest pleads guilty to child pornography possession; diocese reveals abuse allegation

Western Massachusetts priest pleads guilty to child pornography possession; diocese reveals abuse allegation

by Egan Millard
Episcopal News Service
February 24, 2020

The Rev. Gregory Lisby, a priest in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography on Feb. 21, having been charged after FBI agents raided the rectory where he was living in September. The same day, the diocese also revealed that since Lisby's arrest, it has "received devastating credible evidence" that Lisby sexually abused a teenager.

Lisby had been living with his husband, then the rector of St. Luke's Episcopal Church in Worcester, in the church's rectory with their two children when the FBI found nearly 200 images and videos of child pornography in a Microsoft account Lisby used, according to court records.

At the time, Lisby was working as a kindergarten teacher in a public school in Holyoke, having been suspended in 2018 from his position as rector of All Saints Church in Worcester "for an inappropriate relationship with an adult that did not involve sexual contact," the Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher wrote in a letter to the diocese shortly after Lisby's arrest. Fisher added in that letter that the diocese had "no reason to believe that children in our diocese have been victimized in this situation."

Lisby pleaded guilty to one count of possession of child pornography in federal court in Worcester. In a letter to the diocese announcing Lisby's plea, Fisher also shared that the diocese had learned of the abuse allegation against Lisby. The letter did not specify where or when the abuse is alleged to have occurred except to say that it happened after Lisby was ordained a priest in 2007. A spokeswoman for the diocese declined to provide additional details, in the interest of the victim's privacy, but said that law enforcement is aware of the situation.

"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 whose trust in the church has been violated.

"I cannot undo this terrible situation, but I can commit our diocese to telling the truth and seeking healing and reconciliation for anyone who has been harmed by Lisby."

Fisher stressed that Lisby's husband, who has filed for divorce, "remains a priest in good standing and a valuable leader of the diocese" and "is in no way implicated in any of these charges."

Lisby is scheduled to be sentenced on June 25 and could face up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. Fisher said the diocese is in the process of removing him from the priesthood.

Fisher encouraged anyone who wishes to share relevant information about Lisby to call him confidentially at 413-417-2401.

Egan Millard is an assistant editor and reporter for the Episcopal News Service. He can be reached at emillard@episcopalchurch.org

*****

Priest admits child pornography charges as allegations of further abuse are revealed

Rosalind Hughes
EPISCOPAL CAFE
Feb. 24, 2020

In a letter to the Diocese of Western Massachusetts Friday, the Rt. Rev. Douglas Fisher shared new information regarding Gregory Lisby, the priest arrested in September after an FBI investigation into the possession of child pornography. Lisby admitted that charge in court on Friday.

In his letter to the Diocese, Bishop Fisher wrote,

We expect that later today, Lisby will plead guilty to one count of possession of child pornography in federal court in Worcester and will remain in prison awaiting sentencing. In light of this fact, we are conducting a disciplinary process under the canons of our church and taking all required steps to remove him from the Episcopal priesthood. ...

As this situation has unfolded, we have also received devastating credible evidence that after he was ordained as a priest in 2007, Lisby sexually abused a teenager. I am deeply saddened to know that a priest is alleged to have committed such a grievous sin, and on behalf of the entire church, I offer my most heartfelt apology to the victim, the victim's family and to everyone whose trust in the church has been violated.

Fisher wrote that he was making this allegation public in order to promote truth, reconciliation, and healing, and invited anyone with further information to call him confidentially at 413 417 2401.

Bishop Fisher's letter was shared by the Rt. Rev. Carlye Hughes, Bishop of Newark. Lisby had served in the Diocese of Newark before moving with his family to Western Massachusetts in 2015. Bishop Hughes described the news as "a devastating development in the FBI's investigation" into Lisby. She wrote further,

At this time, there is no indication of this behavior during the Rev. Lisby's tenure in this diocese. We have provided assistance, when needed, for staff, lay leaders, and members of these congregations as they respond to this news. We will continue to do so. We will continue to monitor this investigation carefully.

We take the safety of children very seriously in the Diocese of Newark. ...

Should anyone have relevant information, please contact the diocesan Intake Officers responsible for receiving reports of clergy misconduct: The Rev. Canon Andrew Wright, Canon to the Ordinary (973-430-9915 or awright@dioceseofnewark.org) or the Rev. Susan Chrystal (908-403-6597 or spchrystal@gmail.com).

Bishop Fisher had suspended Lisby from priestly duties in 2018 over an inappropriate relationship with an adult that did not include sexual contact. Fisher noted in Friday's letter that Lisby's husband has filed for divorce. He is "in no way implicated in any of these charges." Both bishops invited prayers for him and the couple's children, and all children and families affected by child pornography and other abuse, as well as for Lisby.

Read Bishop Hughes and Bishop Fisher's letters in full here. The Worcester Telegram reports on the case here.

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