'Closest thing to God.' 36-year-old testifies against former Cape Cod priest Mark Hession

BARNSTABLE — A 36-year-old man testified on Tuesday morning in Barnstable Superior Court that he was sexually abused by a former Cape Cod priest while working on a science class project at the church.

He said he was about 13 in the spring of 2002 when he was seated at the table in Our Lady of Victory in Centerville completing a report about a classic "egg drop" experiment. Then-priest Mark Hession sat beside him and put his hand on top of his shorts, then placed his hand underneath his shorts to stroke his penis he said.

"I didn't know what feeling I was feeling at the time," said the 36-year-old man. "It was a weird feeling of enjoyment because my body was naturally enjoying it, but I was not, so I was confused."

Former Cape Cod priest Mark Hession, left, sits with his attorneys Paolo Corso, center, and Frank Corso of Corso Law LLC as they listen to Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Halprin Isaacs give her opening statement to the jury Tuesday morning in Barnstable Superior Court. Hession faces two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.

Hession, who served as the church's parish priest from 2000 to 2014, faces two counts of rape alleged to have happened between 2005 and 2009 and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14 alleged to have happened sometime in 2002. A count of intimidating a witness was dropped.

He pleaded not guilty to the charges in January of 2021.

Tuesday was the first day of testimony in the jury trial.

The Times does not identify an accuser unless that person has given permission to be identified.

'The closest thing to God'

The accuser said Hession also raped him, saying he was forced to receive and perform oral sex. At the time, he never told anyone about the alleged abuse, saying he trusted Hession and calling Hession "the closest thing to God."

"He explained this is a part of 'boy time'," the man testified.

Before the accuser took the stand, attorneys on both sides gave their opening statements to a jury of seven women and eight men.

At the time, the man — as a 13-year-old — lived with his grandmother, who worked at the church as a secretary, while his mother and stepfather struggled with substance abuse. He went to the church after school and stayed for hours doing homework while his grandmother worked.

The defendant told the boy the alleged abuse "was normal," said Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Halprin Isaacs.

For years, the defendant manipulated the boy, Isaacs told the jury.

"He told him that he could go to hell, he told him ... that he was powerful and knew a lot of powerful people."

And the defendant told the boy that no one would believe him, she said.

Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Halprin Isaacs gives her opening statement to the jury Tuesday morning in Barnstable Superior Court in the trial of former Cape Cod priest Mark Hession.
Cape and Islands Assistant District Attorney Alexandra Halprin Isaacs gives her opening statement to the jury Tuesday morning in Barnstable Superior Court in the trial of former Cape Cod priest Mark Hession.

Defense: 'Simply not true'

Paolo G. Corso, Hession's defense attorney, said his client vehemently denied the allegations.

"The accusations against Mr. Hession are false. They did not happen and they are simply not true," said Corso.

The man making the allegations performed odd jobs at the church as a volunteer before he was hired as a maintenance person beginning in 2008 until 2011, Corso said.

Both the accuser and his grandmother were later fired from the church, said Corso. The jury will "hear the reasons for their termination, but it certainly has nothing to do with the allegations that are presented here today," said Corso.

Corso alleged that the accusations stem from the accuser's "financial struggles," saying that's "why we're here, for money."

Paolo Corso of Corso Law LLC gives his opening statement on Tuesday in Barnstable Superior Court. Corso represents former Cape Cod priest Mark Hession who faces two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.
Paolo Corso of Corso Law LLC gives his opening statement on Tuesday in Barnstable Superior Court. Corso represents former Cape Cod priest Mark Hession who faces two counts of rape and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.

He also pointed to what he called inconsistencies with the accuser's story. He said the first time the man reported the alleged 2002 assault in October 2018, he said he was 18 at the time. Then, a year later in September 2019, Corso alleged the accuser reports the incident to the police and said he was 15, before later saying he was 13 in December 2019 and giving "much more detail."

"As you listen to his versions, as you listen to the different stories, I implore you to think that the hardest thing to keep track of is a lie," said Corso.

Hession is also represented by Frank C. Corso. Both lawyers are from Corso Law LLC.

A trial expected to take 5 to 6 days

Judge Mark C. Gildea is presiding over the matter. He previously has said attorneys on both sides estimate it could take five to six days to try this case and present all the evidence.

Hession is on a 2021 list compiled by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Fall River of publicly accused religious leaders connected to the diocese. The "publicly accused" list means that the religious leaders have been publicly named in media reports, third party lists prepared by advocacy groups and/or other dioceses and religious orders as having allegations against them involving sexual abuse of a minor. For a name to appear on the "publicly accused" list, the Diocese of Fall River lacks sufficient information to make its own determination whether the accusation was credible, according to the diocese.

Barnstable Superior Court Judge Mark Gildea, right, listens to Assistant Court Clerk Scott Colgan as he reads the indictments against defendant Mark Hession to the jury.
Barnstable Superior Court Judge Mark Gildea, right, listens to Assistant Court Clerk Scott Colgan as he reads the indictments against defendant Mark Hession to the jury.

Who is Mark Hession?

Hession was ordained in 1984. In 2009, he delivered the homily at the funeral for U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy in Boston.

Hession served at 12 different institutions in the Cape Cod and Fall River areas.

On the Cape, besides Our Lady of Victory, Hession served at Our Lady of the Assumption in Osterville; St. Joan of Arc church in Orleans; and St. Patrick church in Falmouth, according to the Diocese of Fall River.

Off-Cape, he served at St. Patrick Parish in Wareham; Holy Name Church and Holy Rosary Chapel, both in Fall River; St. Mary’s Parish in New Bedford; Charlton Memorial Hospital in Fall River; St. Joseph Church in Taunton; Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Seekonk; and Holy Family parish in East Taunton.

He has been suspended from "active priestly ministry" by the Diocese of Fall River since 2019. That move came after parishioners of Our Lady of Mount Carmel in Seekonk complained that he had sent inappropriate communications, according to previous reporting by the Times.

The diocese said then in a statement that Hession was placed on leave “because of conduct inconsistent with standards of ministerial behavior and in direct violation of the Code of Conduct for priests."

Zane Razzaq writes about housing and real estate. Reach her at zrazzaq@capecodonline.com. Follow her on X @zanerazz.

Gain access to premium Cape Cod Times content by subscribing.

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Former Cape Cod priest rape trial starts with 36-year-old's testimony