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Spotlight Report

Franciscan brother charged with molesting four alter boys

By John Ellement, Globe Staff, 8/15/2002

Correction: Friday, August 16, 2002   Because of a reporting error, the first name of a Franciscan official was incorrect in a story in yesterday's Globe about the arrest of a Franciscan brother, Fidelis DeBerardinis. The Rev. Robert Campagna is the provincial minister for the order's Province of the Immaculate Conception. The story also reported that a lawsuit had been filed in 1992 against the Franciscan order by a former altar boy alleging he had been abused by DeBerardinis. The order reached a settlement with the boy's lawyer; a lawsuit was never filed.

An elderly Franciscan brother was arrested yesterday on charges that he molested four altar boys 30 years ago inside Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church in East Boston and a nearby friary.

The criminal charges against Brother Fidelis (Francis) DeBerardinis, 75, of Clearwater, Fla., come a decade after the Franciscan order settled a civil suit filed by one of the same altar boys.

He was quietly arrested by Boston police at his sister's apartment in Lowell and is scheduled to be arraigned today in Suffolk Superior Court on two counts of rape of a child, four counts of assault with intent to rape a child, and five counts of indecent assault and battery on a child, according to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.

Conley said DeBerardinis was assigned from 1968 to 1973 to Our Lady of Mt. Carmel, a Franciscan priory, where his duties included oversight of the altar boys.

According to Conley, in 1968 and 1969 DeBerardinis allegedly paid one child who was then between 8 and 10 years old to have sex with him on two occasions, giving him $5 after the first encounter and $10 the second time.

During a third incident, DeBerardinis balked at handing over cash and instead complained to the child that he ''had not performed the sexual act satisfactorily,'' said Conley, who described the brother as a ''predator.''

Conley said the second victim was raped and molested numerous times during DeBerardinis's five years in East Boston and that the assaults on this child took place in the church sacristy, DeBerardinis's bedroom, and another room adjacent to the church's altar.

The third victim was molested in the room in the sacristy DeBerardinis had remodeled for use by the altar boys, Conley said. The fourth child was allegedly fondled as he tried to hang up his religious attire, Conley said.

The assaults ended only when DeBerardinis was transferred out of the East Boston church by his order in 1973, said Conley.

The Suffolk investigation began in February when one of the alleged victims called a sexual abuse hot line set up for victims of sexual abuse by priests. The identity of the second victim was included in documents provided to prosecutors during the spring by the Archdiocese of Boston.

However, DeBerardinis was never under the direction of the Boston archdiocese but was supervised by his order, according to the Rev. Paul Campagna, the provincial master for the Franciscans.

In a telephone interview, Campagna said the order was sued in 1992 by one of DeBerardinis's victims and that the suit was settled in an ''amicable way.''

''Since that time, Brother Fidelis has not been allowed in any type of public ministry or any type of ministry where minors were involved,'' Campagna said.

After the lawsuit was filed, according to Campagna, DeBerardinis was ordered not to have any contact with children and banned from direct contact with the public. In the last decade, DeBerardinis has been retired.

Campagna said he believed the victim who filed the lawsuit was the only person to ever report DeBerardinis to church officials during his 40 years with the Franciscan order. He said that within the past two weeks he has sent DeBerardinis's personnel folder to Suffolk prosecutors for their examination.

''We have cooperated 100 percent with [prosecutors] and police,'' Campagna said.

Conley said there are no records indicating that DeBerardinis has been accused of a sex crime since leaving Massachusetts in 1973. According to prosecutors, DeBerardinis has lived in New York state, Toronto, Honduras, Guatemala, Trinidad, and Jerusalem.

This story ran on page A30 of the Boston Globe on 8/15/2002.
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