Minister charged with child rape
Jehovah's Witnesses member accused of 1970s sex assaults
By JOAO FERREIRA, Standard-Times staff writer
NEW BEDFORD -- An Attleboro Jehovah's Witnesses minister yesterday pleaded not guilty to charges that he raped two cousins -- including a New Bedford resident -- in his home 24 years ago.
Ralph Heroux, 74, of Attleboro, was charged in New Bedford Superior Court with two counts of rape of a child and two counts of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.
He was released on $100 personal recognizance. His case was continued to Feb. 20 for a pretrial hearing.
Mr. Heroux was a minister at the Jehovah's Witnesses Kingdom Hall at 88 Commonwealth Ave. in Attleboro during the 1970s when the incidents are alleged to have taken place.
Following the quick arraignment yesterday, Mr. Heroux's attorney, Kevin Reddington, said he wasn't sure if the statute of limitations applied to the case.
"That's certainly something that we will look into," he said.
In 1996, the statute of limitations for rape of a child in Massachusetts was extended from seven to 15 years, starting from the date on which the alleged victim turned 16 or from the first report to law enforcement, whichever came first. Both victims are now 36 years old.
Attleboro police referred all calls on the matter to the district attorney's office. Calls to District Attorney Paul F. Walsh Jr.'s office regarding the matter were not returned by deadline yesterday.
The alleged abuse occurred between 1972 and 1979 at Mr. Heroux's residence in Attleboro but was never reported to authorities, according to the alleged victims.
Mr. Reddington said his client was "very concerned" about the charges.
"I'm hoping that we will be able to resolve this to everybody's satisfaction," he said.
Other details of the case weren't discussed during the arraignment.
Although the court file on the case is sealed, a man and woman claiming to be victims of Mr. Heroux attended the arraignment yesterday and elected to speak to reporters outside the courtroom afterward.
Kristi Hynes of Attleboro, a former stepdaughter of Mr. Heroux, said she was one of the alleged victims. She said the case against Mr. Heroux was finally reported because family members realized the state mandated that clergy report sexual abuse of children.
She said her mother, a Jehovah's Witnesses member who was married to Mr. Heroux until Ms. Hynes was 12, reported the case to the authorities.
When Ms. Hynes was contacted by District Attorney Walsh's office, she told her cousin, Randy Cardoza, a Wareham native who lives in New Bedford. Mr. Cardoza said yesterday he is the other victim.
Both said the sexual abuse occurred when they were between 5 and 9 years old.
The pair said they later reported the abuse to Jehovah's Witnesses leaders, but the case was never pursued and the pair never came forward again.
Mr. Cardoza said that Jehovah's Witnesses don't believe in government authority. He said a group of elders, or priests, decide on all matters involving the religious group.
"They never released the information to the proper authorities when they should," he said. "There's been a lot of cover-up over the years. The code of silence was so great within the Jehovah's Witnesses organization."
Meanwhile, Mr. Cardoza and Ms. Hynes, who long ago left the Jehovah's Witnesses and are part of a victims group called the Silent Lambs, said they know other victims of sexual abuse within the organization.
The Office of Public Information for the Jehovah's Witnesses in Brooklyn referred a reporter to a general statement on the Internet regarding the issue of child abuse within the organization.
In the statement, Philip Brumley, general counsel for the Jehovah's Witnesses, said one of the priorities of the organization is to "see that secular authorities are indeed informed of the accusation."
"We have no objection to the laws of the land that come into play to be enforced on whatever has taken place here," said J.R. Brown, organizational spokesman for Jehovah's Witnesses. "Crime is crime. And we recognize there are penalties for crimes committed."
In relation to Mr. Heroux's, case, Mr. Cardoza and Ms. Hynes said they hope justice is served.
"I think it was a little satisfaction that he is finally being brought to court," Ms. Hynes said.
"I believe he should serve some kind of jail time," Mr. Cardoza said.
Earlier this week, the Boston Globe reported that a 14-year-old Dorchester girl and her parents are suing the group, accusing it of failing to act on reports that a Bible study teacher sexually abused the girl.
According to the report, the lawsuit filed last week says the church elders told the girl's mother they would handle the matter and urged her to pray more about the situation.
This story appeared on Page A3 of The Standard-Times on January 3, 2003.