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Spotlight Report

In suit, three ex-altar boys allege sex abuse

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 10/17/2002

Three more former altar boys are suing former Charlestown priest Robert M. Burns and the Archdiocese of Boston, saying they were sexually abused by Burns after church officials had been warned that he was a pedophile.

Despite that warning from an Ohio bishop, and ignoring their own promise to keep Burns away from young boys, officials in the Boston Archdiocese assigned Burns in about 1986 to teach a class to prospective altar boys, the lawsuit charges.

And while Ohio church officials refused to give Burns another assignment, Boston officials sent him to two parishes: St. Thomas Aquinas in Jamaica Plain and St. Mary's in Charlestown.

The men filing suit, who asked through their lawyer, Timothy P. O'Connell, not to be identified, say they were abused between 1983 and 1990.

A spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Boston couldn't be reached for comment. A message left on Burns's answering machine was not returned.

Burns has already been accused in civil lawsuits of abusing at least five other boys at the two Massachusetts parishes.

In 1995, Burns was arrested in New Hampshire and later imprisoned after he pleaded guilty to molesting a boy there after he left St. Mary's. He has since been released; his last known address, said O'Connell, is Concord, N.H.

The three men, whose lawsuits were filed Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court, charge that officials in the Boston Archdiocese had assured Bishop James W. Malone of the Youngstown, Ohio, Diocese in the early 1980s that they would not allow Burns contact with young boys. The allegations are based on an affidavit from Malone, who died two years ago.

Last year, the chancellor of the Youngstown Diocese confirmed to the Globe that Burns had been sent to Boston for treatment with the understanding that he would not be in contact with young children.

Malone knew that Burns had allegedly sexually assaulted three boys when he worked in Ohio in the late 1970s and early 1980s, according to the lawsuit. Burns was signed into residential treatment centers and was released in 1982 from the now-defunct House of Affirmation in Whitinsville.

Burns decided to remain in the Boston area, according to the lawsuit, and asked officials in the Boston Archdiocese about getting a part-time assignment. Malone told the Boston Archdiocese about Burns's alleged history of abuse in 1982 or 1983, states the suit.

Burns was assigned to St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Mary's, where he allegedly continued to molest children. One of the plaintiffs says he was an altar boy when Burns abused him between 1983 and 1985.

In about 1986, Burns was placed in charge of classes for potential altar boys at St. Mary's, the lawsuit charges. Two of the three men suing Burns and the archdiocese were in those classes. They charge that the priest abused them repeatedly.

In 1991, Burns was sent back to St. Luke's Institute in Maryland for treatment. After his release, he was removed from St. Mary's.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 10/17/2002.
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