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Priest in rape case accused of molesting disabled neighbor

A suspended priest awaiting trial in connection with an alleged rape of an 8-year-old boy was charged yesterday with four counts of sexually molesting a 30-year-old mentally retarded man who lives near him in Hull, prosecutors said.

Anthony Laurano, 81, the former pastor of St. Mary's Church in Plymouth, was arrested at his Hull home Tuesday, said Bridget Norton Middleton, a spokeswoman for Plymouth District Attorney Timothy J. Cruz. Laurano pleaded not guilty yesterday in Hingham District Court to four counts of indecent assault and battery on a mentally retarded person, she said.

Prosecutors then asked Judge Ronald F. Moynahan to revoke Laurano's release on personal recognizance in his prior case, in which he had been charged with raping an 8-year-old boy twice on the same day in 1991, a week before the boy's First Holy Communion, Norton Middleton said.

Prosecutors did not say whether the acts that led to the latest charges allegedly occcurred before or after Laurano was charged with raping the boy.

Moynahan denied the request without a hearing and ordered him released again without setting bail, Norton Middleton said. The judge also denied without a hearing the prosecutors' request to have Laurano jailed pending trial under the state's dangerousness statute, she said.

The judge's handling of the matter yesterday outraged an advocacy group that represents survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

''Nobody was watching him, nobody at all," said Ann Hagan Webb, New England co-coordinator for the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests.

''We were saying over and over that this was a crime waiting to happen, and here we are -- it happened again," she said. ''I am absolutely horrified that they let him out again with no bail. What were they thinking?"

Laurano's lawyer could not be reached for comment on the case.

Three years ago, Laurano was one of 48 priests placed on administrative leave or otherwise barred from ministry by the Archdiocese of Boston because they were facing allegations of sexual abuse.

The archdiocese released a statement yesterday saying that church officials had been ''saddened" to learn of the new charges against Laurano.

''While on administrative leave, Fr. Laurano cannot minister or function publicly as a priest," the statement read. ''We are unable to comment further on any criminal proceedings involving Fr. Laurano."

The statement also said that Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley ''expressed his concern for the suffering that is experienced by survivors and their families in the midst of these new charges against Fr. Laurano."

''The sexual abuse of children or vulnerable adults by clergy is reprehensible and an egregious violation of the trust placed in members of the clergy," the statement read.

In September 2003, more than 500 victims of abuse reached a historic $85 million agreement with O'Malley and the archdiocese to settle claims that church officials failed to prevent priests under their supervision from molesting children.

Last month, another 88 people who had made similar claims agreed to put their cases before an arbitrator and accept awards ranging from $5,000 to $200,000.

Laurano retired as pastor of St. Mary's in 1995. His family lived in East Boston and later moved to Hull. According to a published obituary, he was one of seven children.

His mother, Rita, was a founding member of the East Boston chapter of the ladies auxiliary of the Xaverian Missionary Society of Holliston, when the order moved to the United States from China in 1945. Laurano was quoted in the obituary as saying that his mother, who died in 1984, was given the honor of receiving Communion from Pope Paul VI in 1969.

Laurano was ordained in 1950, and St. Mary's was his first assignment. He later served at St. Catherine of Genoa Church in Somerville, Sacred Heart in Roslindale, and possibly other parishes before returning to St. Mary's, according to published reports.

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