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Spotlight Report

Allegations surface vs. Abington pastor

By Walter V. Robinson and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 2/20/2002

Rev. Joseph L. Welsh
ABINGTON -- Since Cardinal Bernard F. Law first insisted on Jan. 9 that he had removed any priest who had a record of molesting children, Rev. Joseph L. Welsh has relayed those assurances to parishioners here at St. Nicholas.

But this afternoon, the Abington pastor has been ordered to appear at the Chancery, to answer accusations that he, too, sexually abused children.

One woman Welsh alerted about his predicament yesterday said she was not surprised. She learned five months ago, she said, that Welsh sexually abused her three sons over two decades while posing as a close friend of her devout Catholic family in a South Shore town. Welsh was so close to the family that her youngest son -- one he allegedly molested until 1997 -- was named after the priest.

The woman said Welsh told her he expects to be removed.

If Welsh is jettisoned after his scheduled 4:30 p.m. meeting, he will be the ninth priest -- and third pastor -- ousted this month, despite the cardinal's repeated assurances in January that he had removed any priest with a record of sex abuse.

In response to questions about Welsh, Archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said last night, ". . . Recently it would appear that credible allegations have been made against a priest in the archdiocese."

"An investigation is underway," Morrissey said. "If these allegations are substantiated, then the priest will be removed immediately from any and all archdiocesan assignments."

When a Globe reporter sought to interview Welsh at his rectory last night, he refused to answer any questions, closed the door, and shut off the entryway light.

Welsh, who has been pastor of the Abington church since 1997, may represent a new phenomenon -- a priest with no recorded blot on his record whose victims are only now coming forward: The family with the three boys, as well as a man who grew up in Holbrook, contacted the Globe separately to complain about Welsh, who is 59. They said they had not notified the church.

The "credible allegations" cited by Morrissey appear to have been made by another alleged victim.

Welsh's alleged victims, all of whom declined to be identified, said in interviews yesterday that they had suffered psychological damage because of the abuse.

"This didn't happen because my parents were looking the other way. It happened because an evil man took advantage of my family," said the oldest of the three brothers who charged that they were victimized. The man, who is now 41, said the abuse he endured in the mid-1970s helped trigger the alcohol and drug problems he has battled since he was 16.

His youngest brother said Welsh began abusing him when he was 11, and last molested him -- after plying him with liquor -- when he was 17 in 1997. He said he wants to see Welsh imprisoned, and the most recent incident appears to be within the criminal statute of limitations.

It was only when the eldest brother finally confided the abuse to his family last September that his two brothers, dumbstruck, revealed that they were also molested by Welsh. None of the three had ever told one another, or their parents, they said in separate interviews.

The mother said of Welsh yesterday: "After tomorrow, I hope he will not be allowed near children again. He is sick and unstable. He needs to be stopped and confined somewhere."

In keeping with Globe policy, alleged victims of sexual abuse are not identified unless they agree to be named. To protect the identity of Welsh's alleged victims, the Globe has omitted some identifying information.

But in assessing their separate accounts, the newspaper discovered that the Holbrook native and two of the three brothers cited incidents in which they were molested at a cottage Welsh's family owned on a pond in Myles Standish State Forest in Plymouth.

The man who was raised in Holbrook said he and a friend were both molested in about 1972, when he was 13. Welsh asked the boys to the cottage, ostensibly to do cleaning and painting. Once there, he got them to go swimming naked, and allegedly molested him.

The Holbrook native said that after his parents complained to a priest about the incident, Rev. Richard P. Crowley later apologized to him. He said he remembers that because Crowley "showed kindness in a world that had gone crazy for me."

Crowley, who is now pastor at Sacred Heart Parish in Middleborough, said last night that he recalls an upset father approaching him in the early to mid-1970s "to complain about something Joe [Welsh] had done or said to his son." But Crowley said he doesn't remember the father specifying sexual abuse.

Years later, when the man discovered that Welsh was still active, "I was horrified," he said. "I felt awful because in the back of your mind it's the secret that you want to suppress and not let anyone know. But . . . you also realize they've moved him elsewhere, and who's he doing it to now?"

Walter Robinson's email address is Michael Rezendes and Matt Carroll of the Spotlight Team contributed to this report.

This story ran on page B8 of the Boston Globe on 2/20/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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