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Spotlight Report

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Jesuits turn over priests' names

Initial statement was misleading, official concedes

By Walter V. Robinson and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 3/8/2002

The Jesuit New England Province turned over to Suffolk County prosecutors yesterday the names of five Jesuit priests who have been accused of sexual misconduct, then released a misleading statement suggesting there were no more Jesuits facing allegations.

Three hours later, after the Globe challenged the accuracy of the statement, Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., the attorney for the province, acknowledged that there are actually seven Jesuits for whom there are sexual abuse allegations.

Hannigan said the initial statement, by the Rev. John W. Murray, was not intentionally misleading. But in an interview that accompanied the statement's release, Murray and a public relations executive advising him had told two Globe reporters that a total of only five priests were involved.

Last night, Murray admitted he had not accurately disclosed the number of names of priests involved. ''I was very nervous; I am new to this,'' Murray said. ''We were trying to be intentionally positive and truthful. But obviously, I misspoke, and I assume that responsibility.''

In the initial interview, Murray, the executive assistant to the Jesuit New England Province, also conceded that allegations against two of the Jesuits had lain dormant and unnoticed in the order's files, and were only discovered during a review of personnel files that began about a month ago.

Last night, Murray and Hannigan issued a new statement acknowledging that there have been seven Jesuits who have had allegations against them.

Earlier this week, the Globe reported that several graduates of Boston College High School had said in interviews that three Jesuits who taught at the school in the 1970s and early 1980s had molested them. The three are the Reverends James F. Talbot, Francis J. McManus, and Stephen F. Dawber. Two other Jesuits - John H. Acres, 63, who has since left the order; and the Rev. Michael J. Kossak, 48 - were allegedly involved in inappropriate sexual behavior with other students at BC High, according to officials involved with the investigation. Kossak left BC High in 1989 after just one year following an investigation by the state Department of Social Services into an allegation of sexual misconduct against him.

The remaining two Jesuits, who were not publicly identified, had no affiliation with the school, nor were their alleged victims students at the school, according to Hannigan.

In the revised statement last night, the Jesuit order said Hannigan had given Suffolk District Attoney Daniel F. Conley five names, the two unidentified Jesuits as well as McManus and Talbot. The fifth name turned over was Acres, according to the officials, who spoke on condition that they not be identified.

Not referred yet was the name of Dawber, because the Jesuits have yet to speak with any of his alleged victims, although one of three alleged victims of Dawber who have been interviewed by the Globe contacted the school yesterday. A second victim said he is also willing to speak to school officials.

In the statement, the Jesuits said Conley asked them to formally include the name of the seventh Jesuit who faced the DSS investigation. That priest, identified by the officials as Kossak, was given a warning by DSS.

Earlier this week, BC High suspended Dawber. McManus, who left the school in 1983, was placed on administrative leave from his job as chaplain at St. Luke's Hospital in New Bedford. Talbot was removed from Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine, in 1998 after he was accused of molesting a student there a decade earlier.

Dawber, McManus, and Talbot have not returned telephone calls from the Globe seeking comment this week. Yesterday, neither Acres nor Kossak returned telephone calls.

Conley said Hannigan provided the name of one alleged victim, including both males and females, for each priest. Conley said the disclosure was ''`substantial,'' but he expects more information to be turned over next week.

Murray, in a statement handed to the Globe reporters and in the interview, said five names had been referred for possible prosecution, Dawber among them. The statement said: ''The five cases reported are the only ones that reflected information in our files relative to these issues.''

Dawber's name had not been referred, however, as Murray admitted last night. A sixth name had been referred. And despite the wording in the statement that there were only five priests with allegations over a 30-year span, Murray omitted any mention of the seventh priest who had been investigated by DSS.

Murray acknowledged additional sex abuse allegations have been made against other Jesuit priests in past years, but he refused to disclose the total number of past complaints. ''I'm not going to go there,'' Murray said. ''I would like to defer answering that until I have my counsel here to help me.''

Michael Rezendes and Matt Carroll of the Globe Staff also contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A21 of the Boston Globe on 3/8/2002.
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