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Report criticizes archdiocese's investigation

A volunteer group of therapists and advocates for children released a report yesterday criticizing an investigation of sexual abuse allegations against the chief canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Boston, accusing the archdiocese of ignoring its own policies and canon law in handling the complaint.

Contrary to policies in effect at the time of the investigation of Monsignor Michael Smith Foster, the report by the Victims' Rights Committee says, the archdiocese failed to conduct a thorough and objective investigation, did not protect the reputation of alleged victim, Paul Edwards, and denied him access to information generated during the investigation.

Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children and a member of the committee, said the report's findings were ''very objective" and were based on 47 documents made available by Edwards or made public as part of litigation during the clergy sexual abuse scandal. Those documents did not include the church's investigative files, she said.

Edwards filed a lawsuit against Foster and the late Rev. William J. Cummings in 2002. Edwards alleged that Foster sexually touched him in his rectory bedroom at Sacred Heart Church in Newton and that Cummings had raped him during an overnight trip with a church youth group.

Edwards subsequently withdrew the lawsuit, and later renewed the abuse allegations.

The archdiocese settled Edwards's sexual abuse claim against Cummings for an undisclosed amount late last year.

Church officials conducted two investigations of Edwards's allegations against Foster, both times finding them unsubstantiated.

Yesterday, a spokesman for the archdiocese and Foster's lawyer disputed the report's conclusions.

''We really have no comment on the report other than saying that it doesn't say anything new," said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese.

Foster's lawyer, Joseph L. Doherty Jr., said that ''on both occasions the church found no merit to the allegations and those findings were entirely consistent with the information we developed." Edwards's lawyer, Jacqueline T. Ellis of Cambridge, declined to comment on the report, saying she had not talked to her client about it.

The report included criticism that reports in the Globe unfairly raised questions about the validity of Edwards's claims. ''I've reviewed our coverage thoroughly, and I'm satisfied that it was fair," said Martin Baron, editor of the Globe.

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