The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Memo cited in case from mid-'90s

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

In the tens of thousands of pages of church files released during the year of scandal in the Boston Archdiocese, only a few bear the name of Richard G. Lennon, the man just named to run the archdiocese until a new bishop is named.

But those documents place Lennon among church officials who, in the mid-1990s, were trying to remove Rev. Paul J. Mahan from the priesthood with a minimum of scandal.

In a September 1995 letter to Lennon, who was then a priest working as an assistant for canonical affairs, the Rev. Brian M. Flatley outlined ''eight distinct accusations of sexual misconduct with children brought against Father Mahan'' and summarized a psychological evaluation that concluded Mahan was ''a dangerous person'' and ''a threat to adolescent males.''

A day later, Lennon wrote to Bishop John R. Keating of the Arlington, Va., diocese to let him know that Mahan had moved to Virginia, and that Cardinal Bernard F. Law had accepted Mahan's petition to the Vatican to be relieved of his priestly vows.

Later in the month, Keating wrote back, assuring Lennon that there was ''little reason to expect any scandal in this highly cosmopolitan area in the event that the Holy See should issue the requested dispensation.''

Then, in April 1996, before Mahan was officially defrocked but after Law had removed his right to act as a priest, Lennon wrote a memo to then-Auxiliary Bishop William F. Murphy with a crucial question: ''Should the archdiocese make these actions public?''

In his memo, Lennon cited church law and offered contrasting answers, noting, on the one hand, that ''a person has a right to his or her reputation and to protect his or her privacy.'' On the other hand, he said, canon law ''states that the Church is entitled to regulate the rights of the faithful in view of the common good.''

In the end, Lennon recommended a middle course that avoided informing the public of Mahan's danger to boys, arguing instead that church leaders restrict information about Mahan to priests, pastors, and church administrators.

Lennon said this ''would demonstrate both our desire to responsibly make this known and protect as far as possible the reputation/privacy of the individual involved.''

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
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