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Spotlight Report

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Judge asks probe of whether priest lied in affidavit

Comments on records at issue

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 11/15/2002

Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney took the unusual step yesterday of asking state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly to investigate whether a priest accused of sexual abuse lied in an affidavit.

The Rev. Bernard J. Lane had sworn in a September affidavit that he had never given permission for his records from two treatment centers for priests accused of sexual abuse to be released to anyone. But Sweeney noted that the Archdiocese of Boston had turned over documents on Lane's treatment to the court, clearly indicating that he had given church officials access to his records.

''It is a false affidavit,'' Sweeney said. ''... He didn't know he was going to get caught by [archdiocese] documents.''

Sweeney also ordered that Lane's treatment records be released, saying that Lane waived any doctor-patient privilege by sharing his records with the archdiocese. Lane, who retired in 1999, now lives in Barnstead, N.H.

''The attempt here has been on Father Lane's part to create a privilege that does not exist in law ...,'' Sweeney said. ''No person in the Commonwealth enjoys that ability to make up law on their own out of thin air.''

The records will be released after Sweeney releases her written decision within a week.

Sweeney, calling the issue one of ''great seriousness,'' had been urged to sanction Lane by Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney for alleged victims of the Rev. Paul Shanley. Lane's allegedly false afffidavit was filed in the Shanley case.

Lane has been accused by at least 17 men of abusing them as children.

MacLeish has asked for the records of Lane and other priests to try to show that the archdiocese had a pattern of knowingly reassigning priests accused of sexual abuse.

Legal specialists yesterday said it is rare for judges to ask for criminal investigations for perjury. When it does happen, lawyers are usually the target. In this case, Lane is a witness.

''That certainly is not common,'' said Carol Ann Starkey, a lawyer in private practice and former chief of the economic crimes division in the attorney general's office. ''It is probably one of the more extreme measures that can be taken ... based on something that occurs in a courtroom.''

A defendant convicted of perjury faces up to 20 years in prison.

A spokeswoman for Reilly declined to comment yesterday, saying the office had not yet received Sweeney's referral.

Lane, wearing a light blue suit, took the stand in a hearing yesterday about whether his treatment records should be released. MacLeish grilled the priest about his sworn statement that he had never given permission to anyone for his records to be released.

Lane stood by his affidavit, saying he would not have agreed to treatment if he had known his records could later become available to lawyers and the public. ''If I knew it could be available to all, then I would hestitate to do it now,'' he said. ''... I thought this was a totally confidential relationship that I had with the institution that I was with.''

MacLeish suggested that Lane had no choice but to seek treatment after he had been accused of abuse. ''If I didn't go, I'd probably be laicized [defrocked] or something,'' Lane said.

Church officials attended discharge meetings at the treatment centers to gauge whether he could return to duty, Sweeney said.

Attorney Nance Lyons, who represents nine alleged victims of Lane and four others who plan to file civil lawsuits, said she was pleased with Sweeney's ruling yesterday.

''Father Lane either had no privilege because the examination was ordered by his employer,'' she said. ''Or, if he had a privilege, he had waived it because he allowed the reports to be sent to his employer.''

Yesterday, MacLeish said Sweeney's decision to release the records was significant. ''Those records are important because this [lawsuit] is all about what information was available to the archdiocese at the time,'' he said.

Wednesday, Sweeney scolded the archdiocese for delaying its release of other records in the priest abuse cases and threatened sanctions if the delays continue. She ordered those records released by Nov. 22.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 11/15/2002.
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