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Spotlight Report

Church's inquiry on abuse broadens

Clergymen at posts outside area sought

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 3/4/2002

The February housecleaning in which Cardinal Bernard F. Law removed 10 priests from their posts with the Archdiocese of Boston after discovering credible allegations of past sexual misconduct may continue in March.

The archdiocese acknowledged Friday that church officials have also discovered - but not yet acted on - past allegations of sexual abuse against a ''small number'' of other priests who are assigned elsewhere in the country or overseas.

In response to inquiries from the Globe, Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said that ''in some cases,'' the archdiocese has been unable to locate or talk to the priests, or even their superiors.

The difficulty tracking down the clergy highlights the challenges facing the archdiocese in its attempt to determine how many of its members have abused children. Law removed the 10 priests, four of them pastors, in February after offering repeated assurances in January that there were no priests in assignments who were known to have engaged in sexual misconduct with children.

In addition to the examination of priests beyond the borders of the archdiocese, church officials have said the review of files of priests who are assigned locally is not yet complete.

According to the archdiocese's 2002 directory, there are 45 priests with the Boston Archdiocese officially listed as working outside the archdiocese: 17 military and Veterans Administration chaplains; 13 missionaries in Latin America with the Society of St. James the Apostle; and 15 in ''other ministries.''

In past years, there have been documented instances where dioceses and archdioceses, Boston among them, have sent priests who have abused children to work in other dioceses. The bishops involved knew about the priests' backgrounds, but in some cases the receiving pastor did not.

Morrissey, in a statement issued to the Globe, said, ''Ongoing efforts continue to reach any clergy with past accusations against them who may have left the region or who are outside the country.

''In some cases,'' she continued, ''we have been frustrated in our efforts to directly discuss allegations with the priests or their superiors due to extraordinary complications in first locating them and then talking directly with them. However, these efforts continue.''

Morrissey declined to say specifically what has prevented church officials from reaching the priests. Under the cardinal's new ''zero tolerance'' policy, she said, no priest against whom there are credible allegations can remain as an active priest in any capacity.

The priests serving outside the archdiocese would be subject to the same process: They would be informed of the allegations, she said, and asked to come to Boston. If the archdiocese concludes the allegations have merit, they would be removed.

The Globe asked about priests serving elsewhere because some of the cardinal's assurances in January appeared limited to those serving within the geographic boundaries of the archdiocese, which includes all of Eastern Massachusetts except for the Fall River-New Bedford area and Cape Cod.

On Jan. 9 and Jan. 25, Law appeared to restrict his statement to the geographic area, saying, for example, on Jan. 25: There ''is no priest, or former priest, working in this archdiocese in any assignment whom we know to have been responsible for sexual abuse.''

According to the official directory, 12 of the 17 chaplains are in the military, and the remaining five are assigned to VA hospitals - two at VA hospitals in Brockton and Bedford.

Of the 15 in ''other ministries,'' several are teaching at colleges in other states, but nine are listed as on ''lend-lease'' in Florida, Arizona, Louisiana, Wisconsin, and Ontario.

In the early 1990s, one of those lend-lease arrangements proved embarrassing for the archdiocese. The Rev. Eugene M. O'Sullivan pleaded guilty in 1984 to raping an Arlington altar boy and was placed on probation with the condition that he have no contact with children. But in 1985, the year after Law came to Boston, O'Sullivan was transferred to a New Jersey diocese. He served in four New Jersey parishes in seven years. In three of the four, the pastors were not told about his criminal background, the Globe reported in 1993.

O'Sullivan was returned to Boston in 1992 and was given no assignments. He has since retired.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 3/4/2002.
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