PITTSFIELD, Massachusetts (Reuters) - A New York man convicted of raping two altar boys while he was a Roman Catholic priest was sentenced to spend more than 20 years in prison on Wednesday.

Gary Mercure's "ghastly, incomparable acts" inflicted immeasurable suffering on his victims, said Judge John Agostini in handing down the sentence in Berkshire, Mass. Superior Court in Pittsfield, Mass.

Mercure, 62, was convicted last Thursday of raping two altar boys during day trips to Massachusetts in the 1980s.

A jury found him guilty of three counts of forcible rape of a child and one count of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.

He was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison for the rape charges and three to five years prison for the indecent assault and battery. He had faced the possibility of life in prison.

Prosecutors said Mercure, of Troy, New York, took the boys from his Queensbury, New York parish to remote locations in Massachusetts in 1986 and 1989 and sexually abused them.

Several men who were once altar boys from the parish testified they were repeatedly assaulted by Mercure in New York as well as Massachusetts.

Despite the vintage of the complaints, Massachusetts' statute of limitations allowed Mercure to be prosecuted. He could not be tried in New York because too much time elapsed.

The silver-haired Mercure showed little reaction in court but smiled slightly as he was taken away in handcuffs.

He had a 34-year tenure in the Diocese of Albany, from 1974 to 2008, when the diocese removed him from the ministry.

He is technically still a priest, as only the Vatican has the official power to defrock a priest. Bishop of Albany Howard Hubbard said on Wednesday he will recommend to the Vatican that Mercure be defrocked now that he has been convicted.

(Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Greg McCune)

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