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Spotlight Report

Files: Church struck deals with accusers

By Michael Rezendes and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 12/20/2002

Top church officials, such as Bishop John B. McCormack, have been implicated in systematic abuse coverups.  
Coverage of archdiocese coverups
It was 1988 and the Rev. Paul J. Tivnan was facing possible criminal charges for allegedly molesting a child - until a top official of the Boston Archdiocese persuaded a county prosecutor to drop the matter because Tivnan was being treated for sexual disorders.

Laurence E. Hardoon, the former Middlesex County assistant district attorney who handled the case, said yesterday that the agreement he reached with Rev. John B. McCormack, now the bishop of the Manchester, N.H., diocese, was not uncommon in those days in cases involving first-time offenders when the victim agreed.

''We were willing to think it was an aberration,'' said Hardoon, an assistant district attorney for 14 years who is now an attorney in private practice representing alleged clergy abuse victims.

Hardoon said he could not recall all the details of Tivnan's case. But church records show that one of Tivnan's alleged victims testified to a grand jury that Tivnan had abused him.

The records also show that in 1985, Tivnan admitted to molesting a 15-year-old boy in 1978, when Tivnan was a priest at Immaculate Conception Church in Marlborough. After the admission, chuch officials placed Tivnan on sick leave for more than a year and later allowed him to serve as a chaplain at hospitals and nursing homes until 1996.

Restrictions on Tivnan's ministry were meant to keep him away from children, but in May 2001 Tivnan found himself in trouble again when church records indicate he either slapped or touched a girl's cheek at a teen Mass in Wakefield, according to church records. Tivnan retired later that year. He could not be reached for comment.

Church records concerning the allegations against Tivnan were among those released Wednesday and yesterday by attorneys for the firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents about half of the 500 people with pending abuse claims against the Boston Archdiocese and its priests.

Also included in the records was a file that, like others released earlier, shows that the church's practice of tolerating sexually abusive priests dates at least to the 1950s.

The Rev. Philip C. Breton's file shows that he was suspended three times - in 1950, 1951, and again in 1957 - and returned to ministry despite allegations that he molested boys at Hampton Beach in New Hampshire who, according to the records, were under 10 years of age.

After his third suspension, Breton again returned to active ministry, serving in three parishes over the next two decades - St. Bridget's in Maynard, St. Anne's in Salem, and St. Alphonsus's in Beverly.

But as late as 1978, when Breton retired at 69, he was accused of ''taking young boys to his home in New Hampshire,'' according to the records. Church officials responded with an ''interview of [Rev.] Breton by Bishop [Thomas V.] Daily, who offered help.'' Breton died in 1984, but his alleged victims continued to make complaints to the chancery into the early 1990s.

Another file details the career of Rev. Anthony J. Rebeiro, 72, who in August was removed from his assignment as chaplain at Quigley Memorial Hospital and the Soldiers Home in Chelsea because of an allegation of abuse against a minor that occurred nearly 30 years ago.

Although the complaint, which alleged Rebeiro had fondled a 12- or 13-year-old girl in the rectory of St. Linus Church in Natick, may have been the first accusing Rebeiro of abusing a minor, it was not the first accusing Rebeiro of misconduct.

As the Globe reported earlier this year, then-archbishop Bernard F. Law received a letter in 1984 from an anguished parishioner at St. Mary's Church in Franklin contending that Rebeiro had made crude sexual advances on his wife.

Law declined to meet with the parishioner. Records released yesterday show that the priest was quietly transferred to St. Patrick Church in Natick and later to churches in Woburn, Holbrook, and Revere.

In 1994, a decade after the Franklin woman's husband complained to Law, the archdiocese began paying for the woman's psychotherapy. But it did not investigate her husband's complaint against Rebeiro, even though a church official said at the time it was important to do so.

Once Rebeiro was suspended, in August of this year, the archdiocese received nearly a half dozen additional complaints about his conduct at St. Linus Church between 1973 to 1980.

One woman said that when she was 12 or 13 years old, Rebeiro fondled her while hearing her confession and, when she tried to leave, ''pushed her against the wall and started to kiss her.'' Another complaint about Ribeiro came from a man who said that, when he was an altar boy at St. Linus in 1977, Rebeiro groped him while he was changing his clothes.

Church records of priests accused of sexual misconduct released yesterday also include files on the Revs. Gerald J. Hickey, Jay M. Mullin, and Harold J. Johnson.

Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 12/20/2002.
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