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Massachusetts Episcopal priest pleads guilty to child porn possession

Massachusetts Episcopal priest pleads guilty to child porn possession
By Michael Gryboski

The Rev. Gregory Lisby of Christ Church gives an invocation at a Community Meals, Inc. event in 2011
The Rev. Gregory Lisby of Christ Church gives an invocation at a Community Meals, Inc. event in 2011

An Episcopal priest in Massachusetts who formerly taught kindergarten and had recently been suspended by his diocese has pleaded guilty to possession of child pornography.

The Rev. Gregory Lisby of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts pleaded guilty to one count of child porn possession last week. He could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of $250,000.

Last September, Lisby was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation after authorities uncovered evidence that Lisby possessed approximately 180 images and 15 videos that likely depicted child pornography.

The evidence was discovered during a search of Lisby’s home, which he shared with his husband, the Rev. Timothy Burger of St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Worcester, and their two daughters.

Burger has not been implicated in any of the charges and has filed for divorce from Lisby. The diocese considers Burger to be in good standing.

Bishop Douglas J. Fisher sent out a pastoral announcement in response to the news, stating that the diocese was undertaking an official “disciplinary process” to remove Lisby from the priesthood.

“In addition, even after he is released from prison, Lisby will not be permitted any contact with congregations in this diocese without my express permission,” wrote Fisher last week.

“Please know that we take the safety of children very seriously in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and our clergy and lay leaders participate in the safe church training programs mandated by the Episcopal Church.”

Fisher also explained that the diocese has recently received what he called “devastating credible evidence” that Lisby sexually abused a teenager years ago.

“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 continued.

“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.”

Lisby previously served in the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, in New Jersey. This included time at Christ Church of Ridgewood from June 2010 through May 2015.

The Rt. Rev. Carlye J. Hughes, bishop of the Newark Diocese, said in a statement last September that there was no evidence that Lisby engaged in misconduct while serving at Christ Church.

“At this time, there is no indication of this behavior during the Rev. Lisby’s tenure in this diocese. Still, we will monitor this investigation carefully and are ready to launch a diocesan investigation if deemed necessary,” wrote Hughes at the time.

“We join the people of the Diocese of Western Massachusetts in praying for all children exploited by child pornography, and for the Reverends Burger, Lisby, and their family.”