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Spotlight Report

More doubts surface about abuse allegations

By Walter V. Robinson and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 8/23/2002

Accused of abuse and absolved, Msgr. Michael Smith Foster returned to parish work sobered by his experience.  
Coverage of the Foster case
The lawyer for a former Newton resident who has accused two priests of molesting him in the 1980s said yesterday that he will seek to verify claims by his client that are now in doubt, even as new evidence arose that his client, Paul R. Edwards, misrepresented details of the allegations and of his own background.

Eric J. Parker, the Boston attorney who filed the lawsuit last week for Edwards, said his law firm, Parker Scheer, has begun ''an enormous effort to look at the truthfulness'' of assertions made by Edwards in the lawsuit.

In yesterday's editions, the Globe, quoting more than a dozen people who grew up with Edwards, as well as parents who were active in the two Newton parishes, raised questions about the truthfulness of his claim that he was sexually abused. The Edwards acquaintances also portrayed him as a person prone to fanciful embellishments of his personal story, including false claims that he was deaf, that an uncle of his had died, that he had a role in the movie ''Jaws.''

Last spring, he told some childhood friends that two Boston hockey stars helped him get a start in semipro hockey. In interviews yesterday, both players denied his account.

Arnold R. Rosenfeld, the former head of the state board that oversees the conduct of Massachusetts attorneys, said in an interview yesterday that rules of civil procedure require lawyers to investigate information that casts doubt on allegations that are at the center of clients' lawsuits.

''If the investigation shows the allegations are not true, the attorney has an obligation to withdraw the suit,'' Rosenfeld said.

In the lawsuit, Edwards accused Monsignor Michael Smith Foster, the archdiocese's top canon lawyer, and the late Rev. William J. Cummings of molesting him during the early 1980s when they served, respectively, at Sacred Heart and Our Lady Help of Christians parishes in Newton.

Foster, like 19 other priests who have faced such allegations since February, is on leave at his own request while the Boston Archdiocese investigates the validity of the charges.

In a brief statement yesterday, Foster's attorney, Joseph L. Doherty Jr., said he was ''encouraged'' by the revelations in the Globe. Doherty said, however, that ''our primary focus is the dismissal of this unfounded lawsuit so that Monsignor Foster can get his life back.''

Edwards asserts in his lawsuit that Cummings raped him in a hotel room during a December 1982 overnight trip to New York City, sponsored by the youth group at Our Lady Help of Christians. He also alleges that Foster molested him numerous times between 1980 and 1985 in Foster's rectory bedroom at Sacred Heart.

The Globe reported yesterday that peers of Edwards and adults who chaperoned the trip have said the annual visit to New York City was a day trip, with no overnight stay. At Sacred Heart, the pastor and three youth group members who had rectory jobs in the 1980s said in interviews that there was a strict policy barring visitors from the rectory's second floor. It would not have been possible, they say, for Edwards to have spent so much time in Foster's living quarters without being noticed.

The lawsuit appears to contain several other errors. The alleged rape in December 1982 predates by six months the assignment of Cummings to the Newton parish.

Edwards claimed in the lawsuit that he visited Foster at St. Jean's parish in Newton, after Foster returned from studying in Washington in 1988, to tell him of the rape by Cummings. Foster did not return until July 1989, according to archdiocesan records, and it was to St. Jerome's in Arlington, not St. Jean's in Newton.

In an interview late yesterday, Parker said he had already decided to amend his complaint to reflect that the visit occurred at St. Jerome's.

Yesterday, new questions arose about Edwards's tendency to embellish his personal story.

Two childhood friends, John Cappadona and Nicholas Abruzzi, said Edwards told them last spring that two former professional hockey players - Jim Craig, hero of the 1980 US Olympic gold medal team, and Rick Middleton, a right winger for a dozen years with the Boston Bruins - had helped him land a spot on a semipro hockey team affiliated with the Montreal Canadiens.

Yesterday, both men said they had done no such thing.

''Never heard of him,'' said Craig.

Middleton said he has known Edwards socially for about five years. ''I never helped him out with a semipro team,'' Middleton said.

Parker also represents Edwards in a federal lawsuit filed in Boston seeking monetary damages against two manufacturers of a monoski that Edwards said caused him to be injured while using it in December 1999. Filed in 2000, Edwards's suit contends that he suffered serious and permanent injuries while using the monoski while training for the US Disabled Ski Team. He competes as a paraplegic and finished eighth in one downhill competition during the Paralympics held in Nagano, Japan in 1998.

Parker said that despite questions raised in the Globe about Edwards's suit against the priests, he remains confident that his client's allegations are credible.

''Before we take any case,'' Parker said, ''we take great pains to review the facts with the client to determine whether the client is credible. We have no reason to believe Paul Edwards is not a credible person, despite this deluge'' of news coverage.

Parker added that he hopes the Globe and Edwards's detractors ''measure the damage you're doing to this poor young man and his wife.''

David Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests and a nationally known victims' rights activist, said yesterday that he expected some false allegations to surface during the church scandal and has dreaded the prospect.

While he could not comment on the Edwards case because he doesn't know the details, Clohessy said, ''The problem of sexual abuse of kids by clergy is so horrifying that we desperately want to believe it doesn't happen or that it's greatly exaggerated.

''Our fear is that people will overreact and say, `See, see, it has been blown way out of proportion,' '' said Clohessy. But the problem is huge, he said, and there have been only a handful of false accusations that he is aware of.

Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

Walter Robinson c an be reached at

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 8/23/2002.
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