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Spotlight Report

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DA sees lack of priest controls

Archdiocese had no rule on abuse

By Stephen Kurkjian and Farah Stockman, Globe Staff, 2/1/2002

After releasing documents yesterday related to last year's prosecution of a Middleton church worker who pleaded guilty to sex crimes against 24 youths, Essex District Attorney Kevin M. Burke criticized the Archdiocese of Boston for not implementing a system that would keep parishioners and others on alert to sexual abuse of children by priests.

If Cardinal Bernard Law and other top church officials had had a program that directed clergy, parishioners, and church workers to report suspicious activity by priests, it might have prevented Christopher Reardon from abusing youths at St. Agnes Church in Middleton long before his arrest in June 2000, Burke said.

''The issue of pedophilia among priests has been talked about as a potential problem for a long time but what we are seeing [from these documents] as being missing from the archdiocese is a lack of paramount concern for kids,'' Burke said.

Reardon, a youth worker at the church, pleaded guilty last August to 75 counts of sexual crimes involving 24 youths. The new documents are the first pieces of evidence to show that several workers, parishioners, youths and even a fill-in priest at St. Agnes were aware of suspicious behavior by Reardon. But that information was never relayed to law enforcement authorities until his arrest.

The documents, with portions blocked out to protect identities, are transcripts of interviews with Middleton and State Police officers. They show that several individuals passed on their concerns to the St. Agnes pastor, Rev. Jon C. Martin, but that Martin assured them of his trust in Reardon. The documents show that at least two complaints about Reardon were made to the archdiocese Office of Youth Ministry before his arrrest.

They also allege that the Rogers Law Firm, which represented the archdiocese in the case, discouraged several church workers from talking openly to police investigators about their suspicions after Reardon's arrest.

One parishioner told police she had long suspected Reardon of behaving inappropriately with children because of how often he took them to his upstairs office at the church rectory. Also, she said she knew that a worker at the church had called the archdiocese about her own suspicions. The worker told the Globe on Saturday that she had spoken with a lay person assigned to the archdiocese Youth Ministry Office, and he told her to go to Rev. Martin with the information.

The church's attorney, Wilson Rogers, was ''stunned'' to hear that a church worker had reported her suspicions to the archdiocese and to Martin, according to the parishioner's statement to police.

''Mr. Rogers told [the church worker] not to say anything about the Chancellery sic [Chancery],'' according to the statement. ''[That church worker] felt that Rogers put a rope on the people at the church ... and that he was hiding something,'' said the parishioner, whose name was blacked out in the transcript.

Rogers, a partner in the Rogers Law Firm, could not be reached for comment last night.

According to the transcripts, rumors were rampant among parents and church workers about Reardon's strange behavior around children as early as January 2000.

One church worker who helped clean the rectory complained to police: ''I told Martin six months ago what was going on. He never made any attempts to do anything ....''

Martin, who could not be reached for comment, retired as St. Agnes's pastor last August. He extended Reardon's contract as the church's youth worker despite the concern about Reardon's activities. Another worker told police that when she confronted Martin with her suspicions, he said to her, ''I know ... but there is no proof.''

One mother in the parish told police that her daughter had informed her that two boys in her school were afraid to go on a church ski trip led by Reardon because ''he was a child molester.'' ''It appeared to be a rumor. But we were concerned and wouldn't let it die,'' the mother said.

In another interview, a fill-in priest who had worked at St. Agnes in Martin's absence told police that he witnessed Reardon taking a young boy up to his office around August 1999, and noticed that Reardon was acting strangely. ''He took the little boy upstairs... I was very uncomfortable and I didn't know what to do about it,'' the priest said. In previously filed court documents, that priest has been identified as Rev. Richard Driscoll of Topsfield.

''This should be a warning,'' Driscoll said he told Martin, according to the newly released files. ''I said I would be very suspicious of him, and quite frankly I was very suspicious of him ever since.''

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/1/2002.
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