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Spotlight Report

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Priest asks judge to toss paternity suit

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 7/23/2003

Despite church records and his own admission that he may have fathered two children, the Rev. James D. Foley has refused to take a DNA paternity test, which forced an already-fractured family into Plymouth County Probate and Family Court yesterday.

Siblings Emily S. Perry and James Perry sued Foley in late May, asking a judge to force him to submit to a DNA test to prove whether Foley fathered them during a secret, decade-long affair with their mother, Rita, in the 1960s and early 1970s.

Yesterday, Foley's lawyer, Charles J. Bowser Jr., asked Probate and Family Court Judge James V. Menno to throw out the paternity claim brought by James Perry, 38, of Middleborough, because Perry is an adult and is not seeking retroactive child support or other money.

Bowser also filed a motion to dismiss a similar claim brought in Norfolk County Probate and Family Court by 32-year-old Emily Perry, who lives in Stoughton.

Foley has apologized to the Perrys and their two other siblings for the affair and for not doing more to save their mother the night she died of a drug overdose in 1973. But the Perrys' attorney said he has refused to submit to a DNA test unless they sign a waiver that they will never sue him again.

The Perrys' attorney said that the circumstantial evidence of paternity is strong -- James Perry was named after Foley and Emily was named after Foley's sister. She said her clients have a basic right to know who their father is and should be able to explore their family's medical history.

''They tried to go directly to him, but when he wouldn't agree [to a DNA test], this was the only route they had,'' said Boston attorney Cynthia Stone Creem. ''They didn't want it to come to this.''

Creem said that the Perry siblings are not seeking any money from Foley, but want to put the issue of paternity behind them for their own sake and for that of their legal father, Hadwen C. Perry. Under the normal court procedures for paternity claims, Hadwen Perry, who lives in Dartmouth, is also a defendant in the lawsuit.

Creem said her clients want access to Foley's medical information if the DNA tests show that he is their biological father so they can know whether they are genetically predisposed to diseases on his side of the family. Their mother's early death, Creem said, deprived them of much medical knowledge about her side.

James and Emily Perry were accompanied to court yesterday by another brother, Christopher Perry, a financial analyst who lives in Foxborough. They declined to be interviewed yesterday.

Foley, 69, did not attend the hearing. He last faced James, Emily, and Christopher Perry, and another brother, Richard T. Perry of Stoughton, in January, when he apologized to them during a 90-minute meeting arranged by the Archdiocese of Boston's Office of Healing and Assistance.

Foley disclosed the affair and the fatal overdose of Rita Perry to Cardinal Bernard F. Law and an aide, the Rev. John B. McCormack, in 1993. But in earlier interviews, the Perry children said the version of events he gave them contradicted some details reflected in church records.

The Perrys said Foley told them that the night she died their mother, who was 41 at the time, had invited him to spend the night with her at the family home in Needham. Foley said that after midnight, she became hysterical and questioned his love for her after he refused to spend the next day with her.

When she became sick shortly after and fainted, Foley said he realized that she had taken some pills while in the bathroom.

Foley, the children said, acknowledged that he panicked after she collapsed and he was unable to revive her. He said he grabbed his clothes, made an anonymous call to the Needham police emergency line, and fled.

He denied an account, written in 1993 by McCormack from his interview with Foley, that he fled the house in a panic after she collapsed, and only called police after he returned to the house some time later.

After sending Foley for psychological treatment, Law returned him to ministry in 1995 at St. Joseph's Church in Salem. He was removed from that parish when his background became public last December.

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 7/23/2003.
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