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Spotlight Report

Priest probing abuse allegations quits post; health cited

Predecessor to resume job's duties

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 5/29/2002

The Rev. David P. White, the priest whose former job as a police detective made him seem ideal for the job of investigating allegations of sexual abuse against other priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, has quit the post after just two months.

Last year, White, 51, came home early from a planned five-year stint as a missionary in South America, citing bad health. Church officials say the grueling job of policing priests and ministering to abuse victims wore him down quickly.

White, who is now listed as being on sick leave, declined to comment last night.

''He's not healthy,'' said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese. ''It's a very stressful job. He was getting better, but this wore him down.''

Coyne said that the priest whom White had replaced in March, the Rev. Charles J. Higgins, has resumed the job as archdiocesan delegate for handling sexual abuse allegations. Higgins had held the job since 1999. Coyne said the archdiocese is confident that Higgins can handle the job again.

In a recent deposition, Higgins said the archdiocese's record-keeping on sexually abusive priests was beset by disorder and confusion. Two weeks ago, Roderick MacLeish, a lawyer representing the alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, deposed Higgins, suggesting he was far from conscientious in his job as archdiocesan delegate. But Higgins defended himself, saying he did the best he could with a haphazard system. Under questioning by MacLeish, Higgins admitted he had not tried to find records about Shanley in the parishes where he served, as required under a court order. Higgins vowed to do so.

Friends of White said his health wilted under the strain of both confronting priests and comforting victims. A former Marine, White was an 11-year veteran of the Boston Police Department, and a detective lieutenant, when he entered the seminary.

A Dorchester native whose father was a firefighter and whose two brothers were state troopers, White said he had an epiphany in the 1980s when he responded to the scene of a crime where a 9-year-old girl had been raped and beaten. As he stood waiting for the ambulance, he hugged the trembling girl and cried with her.

As a police officer, he had stood over mutilated bodies, helped mugging victims to their feet, pulled the dead from car wrecks, but it was the first time he had ever cried in uniform.

''I'll never forget the look on her face,'' White said in a 1994 Globe interview. ''I wanted to do more than get an ambulance and catch the person who did this to her. I wanted to do something for her soul, because that had been hurt, too.''

Jeffrey A. Newman, a lawyer who represents many alleged victims of sexually abusive priests, said one of his clients had gone to White to report a priest.

''He [White] seemed like a nice enough fellow, but the archdiocese is not taking its responsibility to victims seriously,'' said Newman. ''One guy like him, however nice a guy he is, can't make a difference.''

This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 5/29/2002.
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