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Mass. is urged to prosecute ex-priest

Calif. loophole leaves alleged abuser fee

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 3/15/2002

California law enforcement officials are pushing district attorneys in Massachusetts to prosecute a former priest from Boston who escaped criminal sex abuse charges on the West Coast because of a quirk in the law, but who may still fall under the statute of limitations in Massachusetts.

Richard Coughlin, who founded the internationally known All-American Boys Chorus in 1970 and ran it until his ouster in 1993, allegedly molested nine chorus boys in California, according to police, and, in a separate incident, one boy in Massachusetts. Coughlin served as a priest in Stoneham and Lynn in the 1950s and 1960s.

Coughlin's transfer to California was also controversial. The Massachusetts victim said he told the Boston archdiocese in 1985 about being molested, but the Diocese of Orange County said the information was not passed on to it, according to stories in the Globe in 1993. Boston said it did inform California.

Detective Corinne Loomis, of the Placentia Police Department in California, said she has mailed case information and called officials in Essex and Middlesex counties to discuss pressing charges against Coughlin. Sheila Hanson, a prosecutor in Santa Ana who worked on the case, also urged Coughlin's prosecution.

''Coughlin will fly under the radar, unless there's something Massachusetts can do,'' said Loomis, who hopes any information she relayed can be used to corroborate the case of the single victim here. Spokesmen in the Essex and Middlesex district attorney's offices said they cannot talk about any possible investigations.

Coughlin, 77, resigned from the Costa Mesa-based chorus in 1993 and was later defrocked by the diocese for the alleged abuses during the 1970s and 1980s. Maria Schinderle, a spokeswoman for the Orange County Diocese, said settlements of accusations against Coughlin had been made with victims, but declined to discuss how many or for how much.

A criminal investigation was started in 1997 by the Placentia Police Department when the first victim made a report. However, law enforcement hit a roadblock because of a loophole in the law. If more than six years elapses between the crime and when it's reported, only certain types of sex abuse crimes can be prosecuted.

If the crime involves masturbation, the adult and child must touch each other in order for there to be a prosecution. In this case, Coughlin touched the boys, but the boys did not touch him, so there could be no criminal charge, according to Loomis and Hanson.

''This is a slam dunk felony and he'd be in state prison, if the report had been able to be made during the normal statute of limitations,'' Loomis said.

In Massachusetts, Coughlin allegedly fondled David Coleman between about 1958 and 1962, while Coleman attended St. Patrick's in Stoneham, according to Coleman. The Boston archdiocese has paid for his therapy since 1993, Coleman added.

Coughlin left Boston for California sometime afterward. According to the Orange County diocese, he arrived there in 1965. That date could prove to be crucial, if Massachusetts prosecutors decide to move ahead.

During the early 1960s, the statute of limitations was six years. However, if a suspect leaves the state, the statute ''clock'' stops ticking and doesn't resume until the suspect returns, according to prosecutors.

The statute of limitations has played a prominent role in other priest cases. In 1993, James Porter, a former priest, was convicted of sexually abusing youths, even though the crimes were decades old, because he had moved from Massachusetts and the statute of limitations clock stopped.

In another case, a judge earlier this month threw out child rape charges against convicted sexual abuser John J. Geoghan, another former priest, after ruling the statute of limitations had expired.

Matt Carroll can be e-mailed at

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 3/15/2002.
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