Medford police are investigating allegations that the former longtime rector of Grace Episcopal Church sexually abused a female college student and two high school students during private counseling sessions in the early 1980s.
The former rector, Robert M. Durkee, now 85 and living in New Hampshire, was removed from the priesthood last Tuesday following a January allegation that he sexually abused a female college student in 1980. Durkee was the church rector from 1964 to 1989.
In a statement released yesterday, the Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts said, “We face this situation with real sorrow for everyone affected, and we remain committed to making our congregations safe through transparency, diligence, care for victims, and due process.’’
Last week, after Bishop M. Thomas Shaw informed Grace Church parishioners that the diocese had revoked Durkee’s right to act as a priest, two more women stepped forward and told church officials that Durkee had sexually abused them during counseling sessions in 1983.
The two women are sisters who were 15 and 18 when they saw Durkee and had never complained about the alleged abuse to church officials, fearing that they would not be believed, although they discussed the matter with each other privately a decade ago.
“All these years have gone by, and all of a sudden, it’s, ‘Wow, it wasn’t just us,’ ’’ the older of the two women said in an interview. “I guess there is strength in numbers.’’
The Globe does not identify alleged sexual abuse victims without their consent.
The Rev. Noah H. Evans, the current rector of Grace Church, said he referred the new allegations to Medford police under the diocese’s policy for managing complaints of sexual abuse by priests.
Evans also said that diocesan officials in the early 1990s investigated an additional allegation that Durkee abused someone in the 1960s.
But Evans said he does not know how the investigation was resolved.
The woman who spoke with the Globe said Durkee abused her on a single occasion after her parents referred both sisters to the priest during a difficult period for the family.
The woman said Durkee had her sit in a chair, stood behind her, and told her he was going to conduct an exercise and then abused her.
“I remember it very clearly,’’ she said, adding that the alleged abuse took place in Durkee’s office in the parish hall. “I pushed him away and never wanted to talk to him again.’’
The woman also said that neither she nor her sister dared complain about the alleged abuse because Durkee was held in high regard by their parents and other parishioners.
“They were so enamored with him,’’ the woman said. “They thought he was wonderful. Who was going to believe a kid over this priest who everyone loved?’’
Evans said diocesan officials told parishioners about the former college student’s allegations on Feb. 5, when a “pastoral response team’’ met with about 100 parishioners in small groups.
Evans also noted that Durkee was removed from the priesthood under an accord, or agreement, indicating that he “certainly chose to not fight the allegations.’’
The statute of limitations for sex crimes does not expire if the accused leaves Massachusetts before the statute expires.
For that reason, Durkee could face criminal charges in alleged assaults against women despite the passage of many years.
Allegations of sexual abuse in the Episcopal Church are relatively rare compared with the Catholic Church, which has been deluged with complaints over the last decade.
Still, Evans said that in the weeks since the visit by the pastoral response team, more than 10 parishioners have told him that they were sexually assaulted during incidents unrelated to clergy or the church.
As a consequence, he said, the parish has designated April “Sexual Assault Awareness Month,’’ which will include informational sessions and an April 25 candlelight vigil for all victims of sexual violence.