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Spotlight Report

Ex-church leaders said to hide data

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 7/12/2003

A Jesuit priest who is the former chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital has excoriated former leaders of the Archdiocese of Boston for withholding key information about accusations of sexual misconduct against priests he evaluated for the church.

During a two-day deposition taken in May by lawyers representing alleged abuse victims, the Rev. Dr. Edwin Cassem accused church leaders, particularly Bishop John B. McCormack, of concealing the information.

He said that he was was appalled to learn that church officials had apparently ignored his advice and reassigned some abusive priests to active ministry after he recommended that they be kept away from parish work. The list of priests Cassem evaluated includes some of the archdiocese's most notorious abusers, including the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who is facing criminal charges for allegedly raping young boys.

During the deposition, Cassem said he was ''stupefied'' that the archdiocese had apparently withheld documents suggesting that Shanley was involved with the North American Man/Boy Love Association and that Shanley believed that boys were generally the aggressors in seducing men. Had he known that information, Cassem said, he would have recommended that Shanley be ''laicized and jailed.''

''He was a notorious, dangerous pedophile,'' Cassem said. ''He was a predator. He was a scumbag . . . castration was too good for him.''

Cassem called McCormack, a former top aide to Cardinal Bernard F. Law who now leads the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., a ''liar'' during the deposition. But he later withdrew the accusation during a process that allows deposition witnesses to correct misstatements and typographical errors in their testimony.

The transcript of Cassem's deposition was released as lawyers for alleged sexual abuse victims and the archdiocese met behind closed doors with mediators to discuss a potential settlement of the more than 500 abuse-related civil lawsuits filed against the church.

Cassem, a Harvard-trained psychiatrist who is still affiliated with MGH, was part of a group of psychiatric experts who called themselves the ''priest treaters'' and worked during the late 1980s and into the 1990s evaluating priests who had been accused of sexual misconduct.

Law testified in his deposition that he relied on Cassem's advice and last year asked him to be a member of the Cardinal's Commission to Protect Children, a panel that advised the archdiocese on ways to prevent further child sexual abuse by clergy.

Cassem declined comment on his testimony yesterday, through a spokeswoman at MGH. A spokesman for the archdiocese could not be reached for comment.

But Joseph L. Doherty Jr., a Boston lawyer who represents McCormack, accused Roderick MacLeish, an attorney who represents alleged victims, of provoking Cassem by withholding documents before the deposition and then ambushing him with information that was taken out of context.

''It's tremendously unfair,'' Doherty said.

''It paints a completely inaccurate picture of [Cassem's] relationship with McCormack.''

In his deposition, Cassem said that he had avoided working on issues of sexual abuse until being asked by McCormack in the mid-1980s. Out of ''a sense of loyalty'' to the church, he said, he eventually consulted with McCormack on dozens of priests for more than a decade without charging a fee.

Cassem's evaluations were often brutally frank. He once said that Shanley, who is charged with raping four boys during the 1980s at a now-closed Newton parish, was ''so personally damaged that his pathology is beyond repair.''

And unlike McCormack -- who a Globe Spotlight Team review found often decided that an admitted abuser had changed his ways -- Cassem took an extremely pessimistic view of the chance for rehabilitation.

At the beginning of his deposition, he admitted that he sometimes evaluated priests -- including Shanley -- without meeting them in person. He defended the practice by saying that there was little need to do so once they admitted to their abuse.

The 370-page deposition shows that Cassem became increasingly angry as MacLeish, a lawyer for a Boston firm that represents more than 260 alleged victims, presented him with internal church documents that appeared to show that key information about priests' records had been withheld from him.

Cassem evaluated Shanley in 1994, after several allegations had surfaced that he had molested boys. Based on a review of church records, Cassem recommended that Shanley be kept away from any ministry.

Cassem also insisted he was never told that another archdiocesan priest that he evaluated, the Rev. John M. Picardi, had admitted to raping a man in a Florida motel room in 1992.

Cassem said he could not remember his 1993 recommendation about Picardi, but three years later the Vatican allowed Picardi to return to active ministry in the Diocese of Phoenix, until he was suspended in February after the rape admission became known.

Cassem also lashed out at church officials for apparently ignoring his advice in the cases of several other priests, including the Rev. James D. Foley, who fathered two children with a married woman who died of a drug overdose.

During his first day of questioning, Cassem said he believed he had recommended that Foley not be returned to active ministry and had applauded Law for saying that Foley should instead be ''in a monastery doing penance.''

On the second day, however, upon learning that, at McCormack's urging, Law had given Foley a new assignment in Salem, Cassem said he wanted to ''withdraw'' his compliment of Law.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/12/2003.
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