The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Priest details longtime affair

Tells four children of the woman who died that he's sorry

By Stephen Kurkjian, , Globe Staff, 1/31/2003

The Rev. James D. Foley, who fled when the Needham woman with whom he was having an affair took a fatal overdose in 1973, apologized to her four children -- two of whom he may have fathered -- during an extraordinary face-to-face encounter earlier this month.

In a 90-minute meeting arranged by the Archdiocese of Boston, the children said, Foley, 69, told them about his secret, decade-long, affair with their mother, Rita J. Perry. And they said he apologized for not having done more to help save her the night she died, Aug. 7, 1973.

''He told us he was sorry for the pain and anguish he had caused our family, and he asked us to forgive him,'' said James Perry, 38, of Foxborough, the second-youngest of the four children. ''I'm not sure we're ready to do that. We need more answers before we talk about forgiveness.''

During the meeting with Foley, they said, the priest acknowledged that he rekindled the affair in the late-1960s -- even though Rita Perry did not initially remember him because she suffered from depression, and had had a lobotomy after they first parted in 1966. Until the church's secret files on Foley, which include the details of his multiple affairs, became public last month, Rita Perry's three sons and daughter had believed their mother died alone from an overdose of barbituates.

In an interview with The Globe Tuesday, the Perry children, now in their 30s and 40s, agreed to have their family identified in the hope that it will help them learn more about their mother's death. The interview was arranged by their attorney, Roderick MacLeish Jr.

After an interview last month in which the Perrys asked that their names be withheld, the Globe reported the family's devastation at learning about Foley, and their sense of betrayal by the church for keeping Foley's admission secret. ''If people had done the right thing and investigated our mother's death 30 years ago we wouldn't have to be asking these questions now,'' said Christopher H. Perry, 43, a financial analyst from Foxborough. ''But we feel it is our responsibility to get the answers now.'' The Norfolk County district attorney's office is conducting an investigation into Rita Perry's death.

Rita Perry's husband has told his children that while he knew his wife was ''enamored'' with a priest, he was unaware of the affair. Perry and his wife had separated about a month before her death.

Emily S. Perry, 32, of Stoughton, the youngest of the four children, said Foley said that when he attempted to renew the affair, ''Her first words to him were, `Do I know you?' ''

''So if he hadn't called they would never have started up again, and our mother might be alive today,'' she said.

After he explained who he was, Foley told the Perry children, their mother quickly remembered him and they began seeing one another again, Emily Perry said.

For Emily and James, the two youngest, the meeting with Foley was especially painful because Foley has said that their mother believed he is their father.

''I kept thinking to myself I am sitting across from the man who may have been responsible for my birth but also for my mother's death,'' James Perry said.

Their meeting with Foley was arranged by Barbara Thorp, the director of the Archdiocese's Office of Healing and Assistance.

The children were so apprehensive about meeting the man who had been secretly so much a part of their family's history that only Richard T. Perry, 46, a sales executive from Stoughton, shook Foley's hand at the outset of the meeting.

Foley declined to comment on the meeting yesterday.

Foley disclosed the affair and the fatal overdose to Cardinal Bernard F. Law and the Rev. -- now Bishop -- John B. McCormack in 1993. But Law and McCormack made no effort to notify the family. Instead, after sending Foley for psychological treatment, Law returned Foley to ministry in 1995 at St. Joseph's Church in Salem in 1995. He was removed from the parish when the records became public on Dec. 5.

When Foley, along with Thorp, met with the children on Jan. 13, the priest described for them his version of what happened the night their mother died, according to the children. Some of what Foley said contradicted the account reflected in church records from 1993.

Foley told them Rita Perry, who was 41, invited him to spend the night with her. Only Emily, who was 3, was home, and she was asleep in an upstairs bedroom.

After midnight, Foley told them, she became hysterical and questioned his love for her after he refused to spend the next day with her. Minutes later, she emerged from the bathroom with a bottle of pills, and asked Foley to help her get the top off. Foley said he took the bottle away from her and threw it under a sofa.

But, the children said, the priest told them that when she became sick shortly after that, and then fainted, he realized that she had taken some pills while she was in the bathroom.

Foley, the children said, acknowledged that he panicked after she collapsed and that he was unable to revive her. Then, he said, he grabbed his clothes, made an anonymous call to the Needham police emergency line and then fled the house.

He denied an account, written in 1993 by McCormack from his interview with Foley, that he fled the house in a panic after she collapsed, and only called police after he returned to the house sometime later.

The siblings said they were left with mixed feelings about Foley and his account.

At one point, they said, Foley told them that the archdiocese knew nothing about the affair until 1993. But church records show that when Foley was assigned to the Calgary, Alberta, diocese in 1966, Rita Perry visited him. At the time, church officials in Boston and Calgary corresponded about the visit.

''He didn't have to meet with us, but he did and I think that took a lot of courage,'' said Richard Perry. ''But I don't think we got the full story. I think he said things that put himself in the best light, but we have real questions as to whether it's true or not.''

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 1/31/2003.
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