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Spotlight Report

Abuse allegations known, files show

Law is linked to reassignment of two priests

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 06/05/02

See newly released documents

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Top church officials, such as Bishop John B. McCormack, have been implicated in systematic abuse coverups.  
Coverage of archdiocese coverups

Church documents released yesterday show that top officials of the Boston Archdiocese had extensive knowledge of allegations of sexual misconduct by several priests who were allowed to remain in active ministry, despite complaints dating as far back as the 1960s.

The documents -- nearly 1,000 pages of personnel records turned over to the family of an alleged victim of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley under a court order -- provide evidence that Cardinal Bernard F. Law was directly involved in the reassignment of two accused priests, even though he said in sworn testimony last month that he customarily delegated those decisions to subordinates.

In one case, the documents released yesterday show Law decided that his own 1993 policy for dealing with priests accused of sexual misconduct would not be applied retroactively to a popular Quincy pastor accused of sexual misconduct whom Law later promoted to area vicar with oversight of 19 parishes.

In another, Law recommended publicly explaining the out-of-state transfer of a priest accused of sexual misconduct by saying that he had no previous knowledge of accusations against him -- a statement questioned by one of Law's own bishops.

The records, which cover the careers of 10 priests accused of sexual misconduct, also provide the first documentary evidence that the practice of moving accused clergy from parish to parish dates to the late Cardinal Richard Cushing, who led the archdiocese for a quarter century until 1971 and approved moving at least two priests into new parishes during the 1960s, despite allegations of sexual misconduct.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., the lawyer representing the family of Gregory Ford, who alleges he was molested by Shanley in the 1980s, said he asked for the records on the 10 priests to rebut Law's April assertion that Shanley's continuing ministry during the 1990s was attributable to "inadequate" record-keeping. The Fords are suing Law, contending that he was negligent in his supervision of Shanley.

"These records on these 10 priests show there was substantial record-keeping," MacLeish said.

He is also trying to show that Law's actions in supervising Shanley, who was arrested last month on charges of raping a child, are not covered by the doctrine of charitable immunity, which could limit the liability of church officials and the archdiocese in clergy sexual abuse cases to $20,000.

"We're trying to show there was a pattern of conduct to rebut the assertion of the archdiocese that they were at all times acting in furtherance of a charitable purpose," MacLeish said. "The charitable purpose of the archdiocese is not furthered by putting admitted child molesters into parishes, particularly when parishioners are not told."

Law's sworn deposition in the Ford case is scheduled to be taken today and Friday at an undisclosed location.

MacLeish's request for personnel records covered the Revs. Paul J. Mahan, Daniel M. Graham, Ronald H. Paquin, Joseph E. Birmingham, Eugene M. O'Sullivan, Ernest E. Tourigney, Bernard J. Lane, Paul M. Desilets, John R. Hanlon, and Richard O. Matte.

MacLeish also said that on Friday he asked the archdiocese to turn over personnel records on all priests known to have been accused of sexual misconduct.

"We now want all those records," MacLeish said, adding that the request would include the files of approximately 90 priests whose names were referred to law enforcement authorities earlier this year by church officials responding to the clergy sexual abuse crisis that erupted in January.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, an archdiocesan spokesman, said at a news conference that he had not reviewed the documents on the 10 priests, but he attempted to place the actions of church officials regarding those priests in historical context.

"It's part of the protective culture of the church that was in existence at that time that sought to not only protect children and their families but, at the same time, to try and protect the church, try and protect the priesthood," Coyne said.

None of the 10 priests whose records were released yesterday are assigned to parishes, although one, Graham, was pulled from active ministry only last February. And allegations of sexual abuse against all of them, along with accounts from several of their alleged victims, have been described in previous news accounts.

But the records provide new detail supporting those accounts and show that several of the priests were allowed to work as parish priests, even though top officials knew they had been accused of sexual misconduct. Three of them allegedly went on to molest scores of other young people.

Law's direct involvement with reassignments is reflected in actions he took regarding two of the 10 priests, Graham and Sullivan.

The Globe previously reported that church records show Law promoted Graham to pastor of St. Joseph Church in Quincy in 1990, and to head the Quincy vicariate in 1996, with oversight of 19 parishes, even though Graham had admitted to an allegation of sexual misconduct.

But the documents released yesterday show that Law was aware of Graham's admission in 1996, when he was promoted to area vicar, and that the cardinal was directly involved in excusing Graham's sexual misconduct.

One document shows that in June 1995, an archdiocesan review board established by Law two years earlier to consider allegations of clergy sexual misconduct recommended that Graham "not be involved in parish ministry or ministry that involves minors."

But in 1996, the board reversed itself and Law personally wrote to Graham, saying he could continue working in a parish despite Law's 1993 policy that recommended removing priests accused of sexually abusing minors from duties associated with children.

"The Review Board and the Delegate have recommended that your case be determined to be a case reported and handled appropriately before the present policy was in place, and thus one to which the policy does not apply," Law wrote.

In O'Sullivan's case, the documents include a hand-written 1993 memo -- written by Law, MacLeish said -- in which Law proposes that he publicly explain O'Sullivan's 1985 transfer to a New Jersey parish after O'Sullivan had pleaded guilty to raping an Arlington altar boy.

In the memo, Law suggests saying that at the time of the transfer he had no knowledge of previous complaints against O'Sullivan. But a note that MacLeish said was written by Bishop Alfred C. Hughes questions the idea, noting "there were previous reports."

The records released yesterday also include evidence that some priests accused of sexual misconduct knew one another. For instance, when Graham was asked by Chancery officials to explain a 1988 allegation of sexual misconduct, he had Shanley act as a mediator and later attended a Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous group Shanley recommended.

In another case, the documents show that Matte allegedly molested a boy alleged to have been previously molested by the Rev. Richard A. Buntel, and that Matte also informed church officials in Canada of allegations that Desilets had molested boys as a priest at Assumption Church in Bellingham. In some cases, the documents show that church officials received allegations of sexual abuse against priests who were allowed to remain in parishes where more allegations were later made.

Church records show that archdiocesan officials received their first complaints about Birmingham at least as early as 1964, when two fathers and their sons reported to their pastor that the young priest had repeatedly fondled the boys' genitals. At the time, Birmingham, who had been ordained in 1960, was at his first parish assignment, Our Lady of Fatima in Sudbury.

But over the next 25 years, Birmingham, who died in 1989, would be accused of molesting dozens of additional youths.

Coyne, the spokesman for the archdiocese, said parishioners are likely to hear more about allegations of clergy sexual abuse.

"There's nothing that we can do to ever take back those things," he said, "but we can commit ourselves to help these people heal and to do everything we can to make sure this never happens again."

Michael Rezendes can be reached at Walter Robinson, Sacha Pfeiffer, Matt Carroll, Thomas Farragher, and Kevin Cullen of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/5/2002.
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