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Spotlight Report

Inaction followed charges of abuse

By Thomas Farragher and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 06/05/02

See newly released documents

 Related stories
Memos reveal trail of charges
Allegations known, files show
Inaction followed abuse charges
Asked for help, priest abused

Top church officials, such as Bishop John B. McCormack, have been implicated in systematic abuse coverups.  
Coverage of archdiocese coverups

Senior archdiocesan officials in Boston reacted to charges that priests were abusing children with a bureaucratic nonchalance in the years before the current scandal broke, newly released documents show.

In 1987, when Bishop Robert J. Banks learned of a mother's complaints that the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham had repeatedly molested her 15-year-old son, Banks's response did not sound alarm bells, according to a memo among nearly 1,000 new pages of church documents released yesterday.

"I spoke to Joe Birmingham," the memo reads. "He admitted there had been some difficulty. He agreed it would be helpful to resign from the parish and to seek assessment and therapy."

Banks, as a senior deputy to Cardinal Bernard F. Law, was also involved in the 1985 transfer of the Rev. Eugene M. O'Sullivan to the Metuchen, N.J., diocese after his guilty plea to a rape charge in Middlesex County. Law verbally arranged the transfer after consulting Bishop (now Cardinal) Theodore E. McCarrick. But the documents include a 1984 letter from Banks noting that accusations of sexual misconduct against O'Sullivan dated from "a couple of years" after his 1960 ordination.

When Bishop John B. McCormack, then a top deputy to Law, was asked to look into another reported attack by Birmingham in 1987, he went right to the source.

"[Father Birmingham] assured me there is absolutely no factual basis to your concern regarding your son and him," McCormack wrote to the father of an alleged victim. McCormack also vouched for Birmingham. Earlier this year, the Globe reported that parents in Salem went to McCormack with abuse complaints about Birmingham more than three decades ago.

McCormack also recommended that the case of the Rev. Bernard J. Lane not be sent to the archdiocesan review board, which heard allegations of sexual abuse against priests, even though Lane had admitted he had inappropriate contact with a young boy.

McCormack's recommendation raised the concern of Bishop Alfred C. Hughes, who also knew about Lane's history.

A memo written by "TJD" -- apparently the Rev. Thomas J. Daly -- in February 1992 to Hughes mentions that Lane had "an incident of rather lewd conduct" in 1978.

McCormack on March 15, 1993, wrote Hughes in a memo that the boy who made the charges was vindictive and not credible. He wrote in a follow-up memo on May 3:

"I recommend the matter not be pursued. If you would like this presented to the Sexual Misconduct Review Board, I would do so. However, I do not encourage it."

In the upper righthand corner of the memo, Hughes appends this handwritten comment: "Why do you recommend not going before the board?"

As the new records were being released yesterday, Banks was being questioned under oath as two alleged victims of pedophile priest John J. Geoghan, Mark Keane, and Patrick McSorley, attended. Banks was the archdiocesan administrator who allowed Geoghan to be returned to St. Julia's Church in Weston in 1989 after treatment despite additional allegations of sexual abuse against children.

They said Banks, now bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wis., appeared nervous, frightened, and at times, evasive under questioning by the victims' attorney, Mitchell Garabedian.

"It depresses me that it had to come to this in order to get a bishop to admit that he made a mistake," McSorley said. "He actually did say he made a mistake in putting Geoghan in a different parish. And at least that's a little bit of honesty. It's more than we've gotten before."

Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 6/5/2002.
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