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Spotlight Report

Priest's lawyer says child rape charges may be too late

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 8/29/2002

CAMBRIDGE - A defense lawyer for a Catholic priest charged with repeatedly raping a Waltham altar boy in the early 1980s said the case against his client was filed too late and is vulnerable to a challenge on statute-of-limitations grounds.

The Rev. Robert V. Gale pleaded not guilty yesterday in Middlesex Superior Court to four counts of child rape, charges prosecutors say stem from a four-year period - 1980 to 1984 - when Gale allegedly had sex with the boy in his car, in the basement of St. Jude's Church in Waltham, and in the associate pastor's suite in the church rectory. Dressed in a conservative blue blazer, white shirt and a blue striped tie, the 61-year-old priest had only a ''no comment'' for reporters at his arraignment.

His lawyer, Arthur Tourkantonis of Woburn, said Gale ''obviously denies the charges.''

''And notwithstanding the allegations, right off the bat there is a problem with the statute of limitations,'' Tourkantonis said.

Under laws governing crimes against children, child rape charges must be filed within 15 years of the alleged victim's 16th birthday. The clock on the statute of limitations can be stopped in certain circumstances, however, including if the suspect becomes a fugitive or moves out of state.

When the indictment was announced Tuesday, Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said that the victim in the case, who was 10 years old when the alleged abuse began, is now 32 - meaning that the statute of limitations would have expired.

But Coakley said that the clock stopped running because Gale has been living in New Hampshire for the last couple of years, allowing prosecutors to file the case.

Tourkantonis, however, insisted that his client had been living in Brighton until June 21, when he moved to Middleton, N.H.

Tourkantonis said Gale was a frequent visitor to New Hampshire because his family owned a summer home there. He acknowledged that Gale has a New Hampshire driver's license, but said that he got it because he was frequently driving his sister's car, which has New Hampshire plates.

Gale was told to get the New Hampshire license by a police officer who pulled him over for speeding, Tourkantonis said.

During a brief arraignment yesterday, Middlesex Clerk Magistrate Lucy Pasquale ordered Gale freed on his own recognizance with numerous conditions, including that he cease performing any ''ministerial duties,'' that he conduct ''no religious ceremonies'' at his house in Middleton, and that he have no contact with children. Pasquale rejected a request by prosecutors that Gale be required to post $5,000 cash bail.

Tourkantonis said Gale had been saying Mass on the beach at his lakefront home for local families, apparently in violation of orders from the archdiocese.

''Father Bob would do Mass for the local community in Middleton at his house, on the beach,'' the lawyer said. ''There were children that would come to that Mass, but there was no interaction with Father Bob.''

Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said yesterday that Gale is on ''administrative leave,'' and prohibited from performing ''any public ministry.''

Tourkantonis said only that his client would adhere to the magistrate's order and not challenge it.

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

As early as 1968, the year of Gale's ordination, there are records of complaints about Gale to the archdiocese. Gale allegedly molested at least one boy at Our Lady of Lourdes in Jamaica Plain in the early 1970s before being moved to Quincy, where complaints from parishioners that he was abusing altar boys forced his removal after less than three years in the parish.

He was moved to St. Jude's in Waltham, where he is alleged to have molested the victim in the criminal case twice a month, beginning when he was 10 years old. Parishioners at St. Jude's forced his removal in 1987. Gale was barred from parish ministry by the archdiocese in 1991.

This story ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 8/29/2002.
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