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Spotlight Report

Parishioners say removal of priest is retaliation

By Ray Henry, Globe Correspondent, 5/26/2002

WEST BRIDGEWATER - Parishioners at St. Ann's Catholic Church reacted with outrage yesterday afternoon to the temporary removal of their pastor over allegations of sexual misconduct and claimed the priest was suspended for his outspoken criticism of Cardinal Bernard Law.

The Archdiocese of Boston announced on Friday afternoon that someone had made allegations of sexual misconduct against the Rev. Edward C. McDonagh. He was forced to leave the parish rectory on North Main Street, and will not engage in public ministry until the conclusion of the investigation by the archdiocese and law enforcement officials, said Donna Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese.

Morrissey said Friday that she did not know who made the allegations or when the alleged misconduct happened.

Yesterday, one parishioner, who asked not to be identified but described himself as a friend of McDonagh's, said he recently spoke to the suspended priest. He said McDonagh told him the allegations are about 30 years old and involve a North Shore boy, who has since died. The alleged victim's sister brought the allegations to the attention of the archdiocese, the friend said.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said yesterday that the church will not release details of the allegations against McDonagh, to protect the identity of the reported victim. He said the individual making the claim of abuse has been in contact with church officials, who have offered counseling and support services.

The friend called the charges unfair. ''How does the man go and defend himself?'' the friend asked.

Other parishioners said McDonagh's removal came in retaliation for his publicly calling for Law's resignation over his handling of the sexual abuse scandal. Several parishioners said McDonagh has called for Law to step down from the pulpit during Sunday Masses for the last four to five weeks.

''Father is not guilty of anything. We think someone's in this deal who is trying to scoop him out because of what he said about Cardinal Law,'' said parishioner Helen Cronin, 65, of West Bridgewater. ''He wasn't afraid to speak up.''

Another parishioner, Elaine Pratt, 70, also of West Bridgewater, said it was unlikely that McDonagh would have drawn attention to himself by calling on Law to resign if the priest had abused anyone.

''They wanted him off the altar where he could no longer espouse his beliefs,'' Pratt said.

McDonagh is living with friends, said a vicar who helped celebrate yesterday's Mass.

Clergy and counselors will be available after all Masses to speak with parishioners, according to the archdiocese. St. Ann's parish will hold a meeting on the allegations at 7 p.m. Thursday.

Jenna Russell of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A31 of the Boston Globe on 5/26/2002.
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