Accusations of Sexual Coercion at St. John’s Soup Kitchen in Worcester

Presumably lots more about this story in the coming weeks.


The head of a Massachusetts parish soup kitchen was placed on administrative leave on March 11 after allegations were made to the diocese that for years he has coerced vulnerable women that use the soup kitchen’s services into sex.

The complaint was made against Billy Riley, who has been the food for the poor coordinator for St. John’s Catholic Church in the Diocese of Worcester since 2013.


Nicole Bell, the CEO of Living in Freedom Together – an organization in Worcester that supports women leaving prostitution and works to end the sex trade – made the March 11 complaint to the diocese’s victim assistance coordinator. Bell, who got out of prostitution herself eight years ago, detailed her experiences with Riley to Crux in February.

Bell said she first met Riley through the soup kitchen in 2011, at which time she was homeless. She alleges that he “took an interest in her” and offered to let her shower at his house.

“I did that because I’m experiencing homelessness. I have nothing,” Bell said. “And then that leads to some kind of exchange of sexual activity for his assistance and so eventually it felt like if I didn’t do what he was requesting of me that I wouldn’t be able to access the soup kitchen.”


Crux spoke with another woman in February – who spoke on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation from Riley – that had similar experiences with Riley from 2014 until August 2021 when she became sober.

Fr. Madden wins Worcester human rights award

Father John Madden, pastor of St. John’s Church in Worcester, has won the Worcester Human Rights Commission’s Eleanor T. Hawley Award for outstanding contributions to the field of Human Rights.

According to the City Manager’s letter on the subject:

From serving more than 3,000 meals annually, to housing men in recovery from addiction, a free medical clinic, English as a Second Language classes, to the church’s ministry to Vietnamese residents, Father Madden protects and respects each and every person’s human rights.

The St. John’s soup kitchen has been one of the best around, and a fantastic manifestation of the Catholic Worker spirit in the city. (Fr. Madden spend a number of months living at the New York Catholic Worker house before helping found the soup kitchen at St. John’s.)

We used to write about St. John’s and Fr. Madden much more often around here; we should get back to it.

Hilda Ramirez of the Youth Center also received this award. Congrats to them both!

8 grand stolen from St. John’s Parish

Rev. Madden posted a notice in the parish bulletin at Masses Saturday and Sunday saying: “After a wonderful novena, it is heartbreaking to report that during the 7:15 p.m. Mass on last Sunday, thieves broke into the rectory and stole, $7,844.00.”
(Telegram & Gazette, subscription required)

Things seem to be going great at St. John’s in so many other ways. The article notes that they may be covered by insurance.

Last night Rev. Madden was talking about watching reruns of the cathedral’s Sunday mass on the mighty WCCA-TV. “It’s kind of like watching a game film.”

Rehashing the death of Robert Patricks

According to an article in Sunday’s T&G, Bill’s Place is closed, but Bill McNeil continues his solo efforts to aid the homeless locally.

The article starts off at a dramatic and sordid moment, with the death last winter of Bobby Patricks, a hard-core heroin addict and homeless man staying in the garage at St. John’s Church with his friend Joe Hickey. As heroin or other drug addict is one of the serious issues it is always better to seek the help of experts from treatment center to save one’s life.Solace Treatment Center
can also help people in getting rid off drug addiction.

This was last winter, and the situation frustrated Mr. McNeil. He called code enforcement officials, who cleaned out the garage and referred Joe to a social service agency. Church officials called Mr. McNeil a bully for ratting out one of the few places homeless people could find refuge. Yet it was nothing new to Mr. McNeil. He’s been called a bully before, but it’s all part of his efforts to advocate for the homeless. No one should have to sleep in a garage. No one should die in one. And if he was being called a bully, so be it.

“I don’t think fighting for the homeless is being a bulldog,” he said. “I’ve shown the city I ain’t scared to stand up for people freezing to death. Someone has to stand up for them.”

This article is the phoniest I’ve ever seen in the T&G. I’d just like to address the two parts that are quickest to debunk.

First, this article, and the T&G articles that appeared at the time, imply that Mr. Patricks and Mr. Hickey weren’t already in touch with social service agencies, which is complete crap. They were and Mr. Hickey still is. Mr. McNeil’s intervention, and the city’s intervention, changed nothing. Last time I saw Joe, he was still drinking and his life was still a terrible mess. (Too bad he wasn’t interviewed for this article.)

Second, the entire article gives a misleading impression of the situation in Worcester. The tone is summed up by this quote:

“I’m fighting for the homeless and I feel I’m the only person fighting on the street,” he said.

There are at least a couple dozen people doing their best to help the homeless “on the street” in this town, and not just publicity hounds like my Catholic Worker community. I’ve never felt alone when fighting for the homeless in Worcester.

Thanksgiving and other items

Let’s eat

Thanksgiving is one day when America not only makes a point of feeding the hungry, but feeding them in style.

There was a big crowd at St. John’s Free Meal for Thanksgiving Breakfast. Lots of hugs and smiles.

The St. John’s High School football team stopped by with a donation. (Later that day, they beat St. Peter-Marian 28-7.)

The breakfast conversation was sparkling, as always.

Mike: Why are they showing “Night of the Living Dead” on Thanksgiving?

Bruce: The dead gotta eat too, Mike!
Continue reading “Thanksgiving and other items”

The Re-Dedication of St. John’s Church

The first thing you’d notice upon entering the church: There’s no holy water.

The second thing: The tabernacle is wide open, empty.

Last September, the ceiling of St. John’s Church fell in.

Today, October 2, all the repairs were completed, and it was re-dedicated by Most Rev. Robert P. McManus, Bishop of Worcester.

The concelebrants were Msgr. Edmond Tinsley and Rev. John Madden, who is the administrator of St. John’s.
Continue reading “The Re-Dedication of St. John’s Church”

A Year of Soup

. . . and other items.

  • From St. John’s parish bulletin this week:

    Free Meal: Our anniversary week was busy. Last year, we were standing outside the church wondering if anyone would come to break bread, and enjoy soup, with us. This year, we barely had enough soup. “Success,” in this regard, is not needing a free meal, but there is a need now, and we are blessed to be able to serve and to offer a place of physical, emotional, and spiritual nourishment. We are always grateful for your monetary donations as well as lunch meats, tuna fish, mustard, mayo, coffee, and . . . Thank you!

  • Speaking of Darfur-related fasts, there has been a fast in Lafayette Park for most of July.
  • In I’m So Blue, Barbara Solow pays tribute to the progressive South.