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Spotlight Report

Reardon was suspected before arrest

As many as 18 people told of strange behavior

By Farah Stockman, Globe Staff, 2/10/2002

Since that June day in 2000 when youth minister Christopher Reardon was led away in handcuffs from a church picnic in Middleton, the question has demanded to be answered: How could he prey upon dozens of boys for so long without raising suspicion?

The answer, according to recently unsealed police records, is that as many as 18 people did suspect - and even report - Reardon's strange behavior around boys.

An examination of the documents sheds light on why the Boston Archdiocese's much-heralded 1993 reforms to prevent sexual abuse in the church failed to protect the children in Middleton.

It also suggests ways in which even the new, more sweeping measures that Cardinal Bernard F. Law recently announced in the wake of the John Geoghan scandal might also fall short of protecting children in the future.

For one, the 1993 policy and Law's recent comments concentrate on allegations of abuse by clergy, not lay church workers like Reardon. For another, as the Reardon and Geoghan cases show, the church has been an exceedingly difficult environment in which to discuss suspicions of sexual abuse.

''It will be very, very hard for the church to come up with a policy that will stop abuse,'' said Martin Kelly, a forensic psychiatrist for the prosecution in Reardon's case.

''People who care about the church do not want to think that priests ... or committed workers would do these kind of things,'' Kelly said. Couple that with very sophisticated ways of molesting, ''and it becomes very difficult to detect abuse.''

The parents

In the summer of 1999, some rowdy teenagers walked by Christopher Reardon's new house in Middleton and screamed ''child molester'' so loudly that a girl who was playing in her yard ran inside to tell her mother.

''Why do they say that?'' the worried mother asked a neighbor.

''It's just because he's involved in Boys Scouts and the church,'' the neighbor said.

So the mother, who had long been friendly with Reardon at church, told her children that he was not a child molester.

''I stuck up for him,'' she said recently, through tears.

Nearly a year later, when her son told her that he'd been abused by Reardon, that summer taunt took on an agonizing significance.

Others look back with regret on another missed clue: a bus chat when two boys told an older female friend they would not go with Reardon on a ski trip.

''My parents would never let me go with that child molester,'' the boys said, according to police records.

The girl told her parents, and they called others to find out what sparked the allegation. But when the boys' mothers were called, they denied having suspicions about the popular youth minister.

The church workers

Church workers who watched Reardon take boys up to his doorless office in the St. Agnes rectory thought he behaved strangely, but they never called police.

''You can't hang somebody on a gut feeling,'' one worker told the Globe on condition that she not be named. She said she nonetheless tried in vain to investigate the rumors about Reardon. ''Everybody loved him.''

After hearing a few teens refer to Reardon as a `molester,' another church clerical worker called the archdiocese's Office of Youth Ministry to ask what to do. She said that James Flanagan, a lay coordinator there, advised her to talk to the church pastor, the Rev. Jon C. Martin. The archdiocese declined comment.

Martin, with the support of some staff, decided to ask the parents of teenage boys and the parishioners on the church council to evaluate Reardon's performance because his contract was up for renewal.

''We were trying to see if anybody would come forward,'' said a church worker.

No one did, and about 20 surveys - which Martin allowed Reardon to collect himself - came back overwhelmingly positive.

Church workers now say they had little guidance about what to do in the face of rumor and suspicion.

''There was nothing that said, `If you have a suspicion, you do A, B,C,D,'' the worker recalled. ''We did what we could.''

The pastor

The task of monitoring Reardon fell to Martin, a gregarious pastor who starred in church musicals and, according to interviews and police documents, told the troubled youth he counseled that he, too, had been abused as a child.

When rumors flew about Reardon, Martin told his staff that he called ''the bishop's office'' to ask advice, according to police statements.

''He said the archdiocese said that without proof there is nothing you can do,'' one staff member recalled, adding that Martin also interviewed the girl who heard boys call Reardon a child molester.

After Reardon's arrest, the priest emotionally told reporters he'd seen no warning of Reardon's crimes, some of which took place in a rectory office next to his own bedroom.

''He fooled us all,'' Martin said.

But investigators soon uncovered evidence that Martin himself routinely broke church rules by allowing two former drug addicts that he had counseled at the Middleton jail to sleep in his rectory home. Martin admitted as much in his testimony before a grand jury, saying the men were troubled and in need of a place to stay.

He also admitted before the grand jury that a used condom had been found in his bed in the rectory, but he explained that he sometimes used condoms when he is alone.

Now a lawyer for Reardon's victims is combing through every aspect of Martin's private life to determine if he turned a blind eye to Reardon's abuse or was too preoccupied with his own problems to notice it.

The archdiocese

After Reardon's arrest, police found computer-generated charts with the names of some 250 boys and intimate details about their bodies, as well as a videotape that he made of himself masturbating with one boy in the church rectory. Reardon, who was also a YMCA camp counselor and swim instructor, pleaded guilty to crimes involving 24 boys and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.

After his arrest in June 2000, church officials offered counseling to Reardon's victims and prayed with families. But the unsealed police reports and interviews with church workers indicate that the Rogers Law Firm, which represents the archdiocese, discouraged parishioners from telling police everything they knew.

''They seemed most concerned about the condom,'' one worker told the Globe. She said one lawyer ''asked us not even to speak amongst ourselves, not to talk even to each other.''

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 2/10/2002.
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