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Spotlight Report

Police report causes alarm

By Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 3/14/2002

Amid the growing maelstrom in Massachusetts and beyond over clergy sex abuse, the police log in last Friday's Pepperell Free Press caused predictable alarm among some readers of the biweekly newspaper.

"Sexual assault by priest," the log read, referring to a report made Feb. 26 at 12:10 p.m. about an alleged attack on Tarbell Street, home to St. Joseph's, the town's only Catholic church.

But the report failed to note that the alleged assault took place in the 1980s and involved a priest who left the church more than a decade ago.

Reached yesterday, a spokesman for the Pepperell Police Department acknowledged the police log entry was "misleading" and said police officials have apologized to the church.

"A person came to us and told us he had been sexually abused by a priest about 25 years ago," said Lieutenant James Scott. But because the report was logged the same day it was received and didn't include the date of the alleged assault, "it looked as though it might have happened recently," Scott said.

He declined to provide details about the allegation, or to identify the priest against whom the allegation was made.

Reached at St. Joseph's yesterday, Sister Roberta Rzeznik, a pastoral associate, said the alleged assault occurred in the 1980s and involved a priest "who is no longer here and has not been here for a long time." She also declined to identify the priest, but said he left St. Joseph's before she arrived in 1990.

The current pastor, the Rev. Robert J. Butler, is on vacation and is not aware the police log was published, she said.

The Pepperell Free Press published a story yesterday clarifying the police log entry.

Pepperell police have conferred with prosecutors about the allegation and determined that the criminal statute of limitations has expired and no criminal charges can be brought, Scott said. He also said Pepperell police have received a second, separate report about the same priest.

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 3/14/2002.
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