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Spotlight Report

Church files show more abuses

By Michael Rezendes and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 12/13/2002

The allegations are stark: One raped a Hyde Park boy and walked away from the priesthood after impregnating a woman 17 years younger than him; another molested a West Roxbury boy while working as a Boy Scout leader; a third who abused a Framingham boy was later confined to a psychiatric facility.

These accusations of priestly sexual abuse are contained in church records released yesterday in a sexual abuse lawsuit that has opened a window on pervasive child abuse by many priests of the Boston Archdiocese and the failure of church leaders to control the problem.

The four personnel files - the latest of dozens being aired under a court order - also include records on Monsignor Michael Smith Foster, the only Boston priest of the 25 suspended this year to be cleared of abuse allegations.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney with the firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents about half of the 450 claims against the archdiocese, said the records show that sexual abuse committed by Boston priests was ''truly horrendous'' and that supervisors in the church failed to stop it.

With Cardinal Bernard F. Law at the Vatican to discuss his possible resignation and a potential bankruptcy filing by the archdiocese, Donna M. Morrissey, his spokeswoman, said she could not comment on the records because ''they are the subject of ongoing litigation.''

But the records, like others released earlier, underscore that child sexual abuse was a problem in the archdiocese even before Law was installed as archbishop in 1984.

Alleged victims of former priest Paul E. McDonald, for example, date their abuse to the early and mid-1960s, when McDonald was a priest at St. Joseph Church in Hyde Park and Cardinal Richard Cushing was the leader of the archdiocese.

One said he was repeatedly molested by McDonald over five years, beginning when he was 10 years old, during outings to the Blue Hills in Canton, when McDonald would allow the boy to hold the steering wheel of his car. In a weekly routine, McDonald would fondle the boy in the car while driving, then stop and masturbate in front of him, the alleged victim said. He added that the priest also orally raped him.

Another said he was repeatedly molested by McDonald after a fire destroyed his Hyde Park home and killed two of his brothers. McDonald, the victim said, befriended his family and then molested him and his cousin over a period of two years.

McDonald left the priesthood in 1976 after he was granted a one-year leave by Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, in a letter in which Medeiros asked that God grant McDonald guidance ''during these difficult days.'' Three months later, McDonald wrote to the archdiocese for financial assistance, saying that he and a woman companion had been fired from their jobs and that the woman was enduring ''a most difficult pregnancy.''

McDonald, reached at his home last night, said he was married to the woman when he asked for help but did not receive any assistance. He wouldn't comment on church records showing he molested several Hyde Park boys. ''I really don't want to say anything about it,'' he said.

In the case of the Rev. John M. Cotter, who died in 1989, men and women said they were molested as boys and girls in West Roxbury and Beverly during the 1960s and 1970s. Cotter molested them in swimming pools, in church rectories, and in motel rooms, they said. In one instance, after fondling two boys in a motel room, Cotter allegedly told the boys to kneel and pray or they would go to hell for committing a mortal sin.

In 1995 and 1998, the archdiocese settled with seven of Cotter's victims for a total of $575,000. According to additional insurance records obtained independently by the Globe, four more cases against Cotter were settled for $361,000.

Other Cotter victims called church officials to report his abuse. Two brothers also from West Roxbury said that in about 1967, when they were about 13, they accompanied Cotter on a trip to New York. In a motel room, Cotter asked them if they had ever played with their penises. He then molested them.

Cotter served in St. Theresa of Avila Church in West Roxbury from 1965 to 1973 and was transferred to St. John the Evangelist in Beverly, where he would also be accused of sexually molesting children. He was placed on sick leave in 1980 and never returned to active ministry.

In the Rev. Robert E. Barrett's case, the first sexual abuse allegation against him appears in church files in 1993. In the case, a man reported that Barrett, while a priest at St. George's parish in Framingham in the 1960s, had grabbed his genitals during an overnight trip to Maine.

Barrett made a partial admission to the accusation, writing to Law in 1994 that, ''there was no genital activity but my actions were suspect, and the allegations were credible.'' Still, Law reassigned him to St. Rose's parish in Chelsea. The archdiocese settled the case in 1994 for $30,000.

A second claim was made by a man who said Barrett had sexually abused him from 1967 to 1968, when Barrett was assigned to St. Mary's parish in Hull. The church settled that claim in 1999 for $20,000.

By the time Barrett was placed on permanent disability, in July 1995, he had served in eight parishes and at several hospitals and nursing homes. Barrett also was committed to McLean Hospital in Belmont.

Law wrote empathetically to Barrett at that time: ''Please know, Robert, that you have my forgiveness and my love. ''

The documents released yesterday include more than 400 pages about Monsignor Foster, accused in a lawsuit in August of repeatedly molesting a Newton boy over several years during the 1980s. But Foster's accuser, Paul R. Edwards, withdrew his lawsuit after substantial questions arose over the truth of his allegations and Edwards's credibility.

The files contain an edited transcript of an archdiocesan interview with Edwards in September, in which Edwards described a friendly relationship with Foster that evolved into horseplay, wrestling, and incidents in which the two napped together in their underwear. During the interview, Edwards cited just one incident in which he said Foster became sexually aroused. His account contradicted the numerous incidents of sexual molestation he had claimed in his lawsuit.

When church officials interviewed Foster in August, he answered ''yes'' when asked whether Edwards had ever been in his bedroom, but said he could not recall whether Edwards had ever sat on his bed. In that interview, Foster said it was common for adults and teenagers to visit the upstairs suites of priests, where they had both offices and bedrooms.

In an interview last night, Foster said Edwards's contradictory accounts are false. And while he said it is possible that Edwards might have been in his living quarters in the rectory, it would never have occurred without others being present - including Edwards's own parents during one Christmas party at the parish, Sacred Heart in Newton.

Foster expressed incredulity that the archdiocese would release an incomplete file that appears to exclude almost all of the exculpatory evidence the archdiocese gathered between mid-September and Oct. 30, when the church finally cleared Foster. ''This is a helluva way to restore my reputation,'' Foster said, referring to the archdiocese's promise to take steps to do so.

Sacha Pfeiffer and Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

This story ran on page A62 of the Boston Globe on 12/13/2002.
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