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Spotlight Report

Priest faces charges of raping altar boy

By Walter V. Robinson and Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 8/28/2002

The Rev. Robert V. Gale was removed from the ministry in 1991.

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

It was 23 years ago when parents at St. Joseph's Church in Quincy complained that the Rev. Robert V. Gale had sexually molested some of the parish altar boys. So, the Archdiocese of Boston reassigned Gale to St. Jude's in Waltham - where he was placed in charge of the altar boys.

Yesterday, Gale was indicted by a Middlesex County grand jury, charged with four counts of raping one of those Waltham altar boys between 1980 and 1984, when the alleged victim was between 10 and 14 years old. Over four years, the boy was molested about twice a month, according to Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley.

Gale is the eighth priest this year to be criminally charged with molesting children within the Boston Archdiocese.

Gale is now on administrative leave from the Archdiocese of Boston and is restricted from practicing any public ministry, according to an archdiocese spokeswoman.

Months after revelations that the archdiocese knowingly moved pedophile priest John J. Geoghan from parish to parish, the Gale indictment highlights yet another case in which an alleged multiple offender was shuffled around with the knowledge of church officials.

Even after Gale was finally removed from parish ministry in 1991 - whisked out of the Infant Jesus rectory in Brookline without explanation to the pastor - he was allowed to live at St. Monica's Church in South Boston. It was there, in 1993, that Gale allegedly tried to seduce a 17-year-old boy, an incident the alleged victim said in a Globe interview was so traumatic that he abandoned thoughts of becoming a priest and lost his faith in the church and in Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

Gale's alleged molestation of boys began while he was a seminarian in the mid-1960s, according to Globe interviews with his alleged victims and archdiocesan records that have been turned over to lawyers.

As early as 1968, the year of Gale's ordination, there are records of complaints about Gale to the archdiocese. Gale, who is now 61, allegedly molested at least one boy at Our Lady of Lourdes in Jamaica Plain in the early 1970s before being moved to Quincy, where he lasted less than three years.

In Waltham, where he spent almost eight years, it was again parishioners who forced his removal, in 1987. But even then, Gale was sent to yet another parish, in Brookline, after treatment and ''a clean bill of health,'' according to the Rev. Walter E. Casey, who was then pastor of Infant Jesus parish.

One of Gale's alleged victims at St. Joseph's in Quincy, Kevin P. Kelly, said in an interview yesterday that his parents and others brought their complaints about abuse by Gale to the pastor, the Rev. Joseph J. Downey, in 1979. Within days, he said, Gale was gone.

Downey, in an interview this week, said he was recently cautioned by archdiocesan officials not to discuss the case. But when asked whether Gale was transferred because of the complaints, the retired pastor said, ''You're on the right track.''

Downey, who is 82, paused a moment, then said how pained he is at this year's disclosures. ''We were innocent priests. We didn't know how to handle those things,'' he said. ''We should have known better. But it was something that wasn't out in the open then.''

According to Coakley, the Waltham victim, who is now 32, was allegedly raped in the associate pastor's suite in St. Jude's rectory, behind an unused altar in the church storage basement and occasionally in Gale's car while it was parked by a public park in Waltham.

Gale was arrested by police yesterday at his Middleton, N.H., home and arraigned on a fugitive from justice charge in state court there. He was released without bail after promising to appear in Middlesex Superior Court this morning for arraignment on four counts of child rape.

Prosecutors were able to bring the charges despite the 15-year statute of limitations because it appears that Gale has been living in New Hampshire for the last few years, which halted the clock.

Gale, in a brief telephone interview in early January after the Globe found his name in documents that suggested he had molested children, asserted that he had been removed from ministry because of a drinking problem. Since January, he has not responded to more than a score of messages, including written notes, seeking an interview.

In 1996, Kelly received an $80,000 settlement from the archdiocese. In 1979, when Kelly was 12, Gale allegedly took him to New Hampshire and raped him at a home Gale owned with his sister.

This past April, Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating turned the Kelly case over to New Hampshire authorities for possible prosecution.

Kelly is one of at least three alleged victims of Gale who received settlements from the archdiocese several years ago. This year, several others have filed civil claims against him.

Like Geoghan, Gale is one of a number of priests accused of having multiple victims. His charm made him a magnet for school-age children, according to people who worked with him.

''He was very good working with kids - or so we thought. He was very charismatic in attracting kids to youth programs,'' recalled Bonnie Gorman, who was director of youth services in the 1970s for the Ecumenical Social Action Center, which worked with churches in Jamaica Plain, Roxbury, and Mission Hill. At the time, Gale was at Our Lady of Lourdes in Jamaica Plain.

Gorman, who is now the director of a Quincy health agency, said she was stunned to learn in the mid-1990s that a boy she knew at Our Lady's allegedly had been abused by Gale and that the archdiocese had quietly settled the case.

By the accounts of Kelly and others, Gale lasted less than three years in Quincy. And complaints from parents at St. Joseph's did not stop with the pastor.

One longtime parishioner at St. Joseph's, who asked that her name not be used, said that in February 1979 - the same month that Kelly was allegedly raped - she and her husband complained directly to Bishop Daniel A. Hart, who was the regional bishop for the South Shore at the time.

''We told Bishop Hart, `If he's not moved out of here, we're going to the police. And we want him in a place where he's not involved with children,''' the woman recalled. A week later, she said, Gale was removed from the parish. But within six months, she recalled, he visited the parish ''with a carload of kids'' from Waltham.

Hart is now the bishop of the Norwich, Conn., diocese. Through a spokeswoman, Jacqueline Keller, Hart declined yesterday to answer questions about Gale.

Gorman, who grew up attending St. Jude's in Waltham, said she subsequently learned that Gale had been removed from her home parish in 1987 after some influential lay people took their complaints about his behavior to the archdiocese. Gale, she said, was then sent for treatment.

But she said she had not been aware that he was then sent to Infant Jesus in Brookline. ''Clearly he was a known child molester, and they reassigned him to another parish, which is a greater sin by those who assigned him. I am totally outraged,'' Gorman said.

Casey, the Brookline pastor, said in an interview yesterday that church officials informed him that Gale ''had had problems in the past, but he had been in rehab, and had a clean bill of health.'' Casey said it was clear to him that the ''problems'' involved improper contact with children.

After about two years, Casey said, Gale began ''staying out all night'' and drinking heavily, and was unable to function. But the pastor said he never had a complaint that Gale molested children while he was at the Brookline parish.

One morning, he said, ''The archdiocese sent a priest by. He said he was taking him out, and he took him away for treatment. No one discussed it with me. Whatever was going on, they were aware of it, and took care of it.''

Just two years later, after moving to South Boston, Gale took an interest in a college-bound 17-year-old he met at St. Monica's. The youth, who filed a lawsuit this year, said in an interview that Law had corresponded with him about his possible vocation, and he was flattered that Gale had befriended him.

But after he assisted Gale at a baptism, he said, Gale invited him to his rectory office, where the priest changed clothes in front of him. Then, he said, Gale gave him an open-mouth kiss. When he protested that he had a girlfriend and was not gay, he said Gale told him that ''having one experimental homosexual experience doesn't make somebody gay.''

The youth, who is now 25, said he refused Gale's request for another kiss and quickly left.

Walter Robinson can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 8/28/2002.
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