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Spotlight Report

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Norfolk DA: Most priests can't be tried

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 4/10/2002

Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating, in a sharp rebuke to the Archdiocese of Boston for its longtime practice of shielding priests who molested children, said yesterday that the passage of time will prevent prosecutions of most of the priests whose names were referred to his office.

Because of the church's secrecy, Keating said in an interview, ''the lives of many innocent victims were ruined, and people who are nothing more than common criminals cannot be brought to justice.''

The priests who abused children, he said, ''were involved in a sordid masquerade. Everyone thought of them as trusted saviors of souls, but they were instead diabolical destroyers of lives.''

Keating is the first of five Eastern Massachusetts DAs to complete his case file review of priests whose records the prosecutors insisted the archdiocese turn over for possible prosecution.

Of the 25 priests' names given to Norfolk County, Keating said that, by agreement with the Church, he will refer three to the New Hampshire attorney general because the alleged molestation occurred in New Hampshire.

The three were identified in a letter from Keating to, the archdiocese's lawyer as the Rev. Robert V. Gale, Robert Towner and Thomas D. Donnelly. Towner and Donnelly are no longer listed as priests in the church's annual directories. None of the three could be reached for comment.

Of the other 22 names, Keating said 12 of them could not be prosecuted because the statute of limitations had passed. Allegations against six others were for acts in other counties. He said one case remains under investigation. Another involved allegations that were not criminal. Another was about John J. Geoghan, who is in prison after one conviction and is awaiting trial on other charges in Suffolk County. The final case involves a priest Keating only recently sought records for.

Walter Robinson's can be reached at

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 4/10/2002.
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