Monk to do community service for scratching cross on coffin

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Date Published: 06/08/1999

PALMER, Mass. (AP) — A monk was ordered to perform 100 hours of community service for scratching a cross on the coffin of a boy.

Dell Scott Goodwin, 42, who is also known as Father Lazarus, acknowledged Monday in Palmer District Court that prosecutors had sufficient facts to warrant a guilty finding. He was charged with vandalizing a gravesite and wanton destruction of property worth more than $ 250.

The judge said he would dismiss the charges within a year if Goodwin performs the community service.

If convicted, he could have faced a maximum of five years in jail.

Goodwin said he used a rock to carve a cross and religious letters into Christopher Martel’s coffin as it was lowered into the grave.

The 17-year-old Brimfield boy was struck by a hit-and-run driver on March 29. Goodwin, who knew the boy, was one of the first on the scene.

”He was very emotionally affected,” said his attorney, Gregory Hession. ”The boy literally died in his arms.”

But the boy’s family, who are Roman Catholic, said they were appalled at what they considered to be the coffin’s desecration.

”It wasn’t right,” Joshua Martel, 19, Christopher’s brother, told the Union-News in Springfield. ”I don’t know in his religion if it’s bad or good, but I don’t think it was right at all to carve on the casket.”

William Saulnier, the abbot at St. Nectarios Monastery in Brimfield, to which Goodwin belongs, said Goodwin carved the cross and the letters ICXC and NIKA – Greek for ”Jesus Christ conquers” – as an expression of faith and part of the monastery’s burial tradition.

”He didn’t do it to deface or offend at all,” Saulnier said.

Saulnier said the monastery is not under the jurisdiction of any of the traditional Eastern Orthodox churches, although it follows many of their teachings.

Goodwin wore a long black robe and a round black hat in court. He kept his head bowed, only occasionally glancing up at Judge Kenneth Cote during the five-minute proceeding.

He spoke only once.

”The symbol was made in accordance with church practice in the tradition of the church,” he said.

Hession apologized to the Martels on his client’s behalf.

”Father Lazarus wants to at least communicate to the family … that there was no bad intent on his part in doing this,” he said. ”He realizes he should have asked permission.

”He was present when the child’s life went out of him … (and) he was overcome with the grief of it and was acting in an emotional way, not a rational one,” Hession said.

At Martel’s funeral on April 1, Goodwin waited until the family members went to their vehicles after the graveside service and then used a stone and dirt to mark the boy’s casket.

Elaine Sansoucy, director of the funeral home that handled the burial, said she spotted Goodwin and yelled at him to stop, but it was too late.

An Agawam man has been charged in Martel’s death. David Preston, 47, pleaded innocent to vehicular homicide, drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident.