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Law's words frame new play

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Spotlight Report

Law is new defendant in clergy abuse suit

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 4/5/2002

The late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham left a trail of abuse during a 30-year career in Boston-area parishes.  
Coverage of the Birmingham case

Cardinal Bernard F. Law and a retired monsignor were added as defendants yesterday to a lawsuit that now includes 14 alleged victims of the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, with the two officials accused of allowing Birmingham to continue serving in parishes despite knowledge of his sexual abuse.

Thomas Blanchette, one of the alleged victims, also said that he approached Law at Birmingham's funeral in 1989 and said there were many young men who needed counseling because of the abuse Birmingham inflicted on them, according to the lawsuit.

According to Blanchette, Law's response was: "We don't want to destroy the reputation of this fine man's ministry."

Birmingham, who was ordained in 1960, allegedly molested so many children that he has been compared to former priest John J. Geoghan, who allegedly abused nearly 200 children. The Globe reported yesterday that more than two dozen victims of Birmingham have come forward in recent weeks.

As in Geoghan's case, angry parents complained that Birmingham had molested their children. But the Globe has reported that complaints to the chancery lodged by parents from the first two parishes where Birmingham served, in Sudbury and Salem, had little effect: The archdiocese simply moved him from one parish to another.

The suit, filed last month on behalf of James M. Hogan of Wilmington, Del., and amended yesterday to add 13 more victims, also names Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., as a defendant. McCormack, a seminary classmate of the dead priest who served with him in Salem, allegedly saw Birmingham taking a young boy to his room in the 1960s and did nothing to stop it. McCormack has denied the accusation, but admitted he was told about Birmingham's abuse of children.

Robert A. Sherman, the attorney who filed the suit, said an additional 17 victims of Birmingham have contacted his office.

The name of retired Monsignor John J. Jennings also was added to the suit in Suffolk Superior Court for allegedly ignoring the complaints of five women from St. James parish in Salem who asked in 1970 that Birmingham's new pastor in Lowell be told he was an abuser and that Birmingham be kept away from children.

Jennings categorically rejected their demands and suggested the women were slandering Birmingham, according to the suit.

Tom Farragher of the Globe Staff contributed to this story. Matt Carroll's e-mail is

This story ran on page A21 of the Boston Globe on 4/5/2002.
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