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Spotlight Report

'He was so angry, upset, and ashamed. I know it affected his whole life.'

Kevin McDonough died of a drug overdose last year, and family and friends think they know why: He never recovered, they say, from a priest's sexual abuse

By Bella English, Globe Staff, 9/18/2002

Kevin McDonough

McDonough, right, and his brother Barry at 3 years old.

St. Gerard Majella church in Canton. (Globe Staff Photo / Suzanne Kreiter)

 Related stories
St. Gerard's pulls together in crisis

CANTON - At first, Mary McDonough thought her son Kevin was just going through a rough adolescence. He had been such a joyful, joking child - ''the happiest of my four boys,'' she says - and a constant tease to his twin brother, Barry.

But at age 13 or 14, he began withdrawing, brooding over life. ''Once, he was doing sit-ups in the living room, and he said, `I won't be around much longer.' I thought he was talking about that evening, but I guess he was talking about much more than that,'' says McDonough, sitting in the white ranch home where she and her husband, John, raised their children.

There were other hints that all was not well with their son. In high school, he dropped out of team sports and began taking the bus to a Brockton gym every day, where he spent hours boxing. At 115 pounds, he won a Golden Gloves state title in the featherweight division. After that, his father asked him if he planned to continue boxing. ''No, I can take care of myself now,'' he replied.

John McDonough, 74 and retired from work at Boston Gas Co., looks deflated as he relays the story. ''He gave me the message, but I couldn't pick it up.''

The message, his parents now believe, was that their son had been sexually abused by their priest, the Rev. Peter J. Frost. They will never know the details, for Kevin McDonough died May 1, 2001, after an overdose of cocaine. He was 36 years old, with a girlfriend, a supportive family, a job selling cars in Norwood, and a long history of depression.

John and Mary McDonough, pillars of St. Gerard Majella church, see Frost's fingerprints all over their son's death. ''I believe he murdered my son,'' says Mary McDonough, 71, who firmly believes that her son took an accidental, not deliberate, overdose. She and her husband had no idea - as Kevin struggled with depression, alcohol, drugs, and a suicide attempt as a teenager - about what had happened when he was young. At least not until after he died.

''Kevin could not tell us. He told three other people. He couldn't kill the pain. He couldn't get over it,'' she says. Two of her sisters are nuns. Her brother is a priest. In her family, clergy are next to God. Her eyes flash as she speaks of the unspeakable: ''It's the most disgusting thing I ever had to talk about. It's the rottenest story. It's the most heartbreaking story.''

''Unfortunately,'' her husband adds, ''Kevin died before we found out what happened to him.''

What happened to him, they have since heard from those in whom their son confided, was Father Peter Frost.

From time to time, Mary McDonough will say, ''My son died a year too early.'' What she means is that he died several months before the sexual-abuse scandal rocked the Boston Archdiocese and the rest of the world. Frost is among the priests named by other alleged victims, and her son, she says, would have found comfort and support knowing that he was not the only one.

Mary and John McDonough grew up in Boston but wanted to raise their boys in the suburbs. In 1971, they bought a house in Canton on a quiet street just blocks away from St. Gerard's. Every Sunday, the family went to Mass. Their youngest sons, Kevin and Barry, went through First Communion, Confirmation, and religious-education classes, which their mother taught for seven years.

Sean was the oldest; two years later came Brian, and seven years after that the twins. Mary McDonough was very involved in a prayer group at the church, and as its spiritual leader, Frost, an associate pastor, would come by the house two or three times a week. Because the boys' relatives were clergy, they were used to having nuns and priests at the home.

The twins were identical, but there were differences: Kevin was sweet and sensitive, Barry more feisty. When Frost told the boys he wanted to teach them racquetball, Kevin said yes, Barry said no. Today, Barry remembers that Frost would say, ''Make sure you bring an extra change of clothing so we can all shower up together afterwards.'' Even at 10, he says, ''I knew that was an odd statement for a priest to make.''

Both brother and mother agree that Kevin would not have wanted to hurt Frost's feelings, even if he didn't want to learn racquetball. So off Kevin would go to play racquetball with Frost. As time passed, the teenage Kevin lost interest in school and became more isolated from friends; he told his parents he wanted to drop out of Canton High and join the Marines. They said no. But after the twins graduated in 1983, Kevin joined up, while Barry enrolled at Northeastern University. Two weeks later, Kevin was home; he couldn't hack the Marines.

John McDonough recalls Kevin saying to him, just after he came home from training camp, ''Dad, I have a scratch or something on my arm.''

''What were you, out in the woods?'' asked his father, idly.

The father recalls what happened next with a chilling clarity. ''He looked at me and went back into his room. I heard him yelling, and I went back there, and there was blood on the floor.'' Kevin had slashed at his wrists. His parents rushed him to the hospital, and he spent a month at Westwood Lodge, a psychiatric facility. Weeks later, he was readmitted.

It became a cycle: The depression would descend and often linger for months. Then it would lift, and Kevin would seem almost like his old carefree self. '' He had trouble waking up every day and looking in the mirror,'' says his twin, a film editor in California. ''And there is no question in my mind this had to do with Father Frost.''

The McDonough family is not the only one that claims to be scarred by Frost. His name has been turned over to the Norfolk County District Attorney's Office for investigation in other cases. The DA's office declined to comment, but two lawyers representing alleged victims confirm that they have given the office information on Frost.

The truth comes out

Over the years, Kevin McDonough was in and out of therapy. He attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings seven nights a week. ''He really tried to help himself,'' his mother says. ''And we tried, but we just couldn't get through. If you have a secret buried deep down like that, it really eats away at you.''

Raised in an era when priests were treated like royalty and sex was not discussed, the McDonoughs didn't realize their son had been sexually abused. Not until the night he died. Reeling from his death, his parents were further stunned that night when their 17-year-old granddaughter Tara tearfully told them that he had been molested by a priest.

''Papa,'' she asked her grandfather, ''didn't you know?''

And so the story - or part of it, at least - unfolded. A couple of months earlier, Kevin had taken Tara and her sister out for dinner. Tara said he was warning them to be careful about the people they hung out with. ''And all of a sudden, he burst out crying with his story about being molested by a priest,'' his mother recounts. He didn't go into detail with the girls but said he would explain more the next time they went out. Shortly afterward, he overdosed.

There were earlier hints. In the summer of 2000, Kevin's brother Sean was home from Peru, where he is stationed with the US Drug Enforcement Agency. After talking to Kevin, Sean told his father he thought Kevin had been molested as a boy. Kevin had confided that his therapist wanted him to go into long-term therapy because he suspected Kevin had been abused. That was all he would reveal to Sean, except to say that he was not ready for the rigors of intensive psychotherapy.

After that conversation with Sean, John McDonough walked into Kevin's room. ''He was lying there with a pillow over his head,'' recalls the father. ''I said, `I want to ask you something. Were you ever molested?'''

The son was silent. His father pleaded again, in vain, for an answer. Today, he says: ''If he hadn't been molested, I know he would have been livid in his response.''

Another memory: the teenage Barry, 20 years ago, confiding in his mother that a classmate, Bryan MacDonald, had told him Frost had hit on him, and that Frost had told Bryan he ''also went to the McDonough home.'' Mary McDonough went down to the church to confront Frost. ''I was violently angry,'' she says. ''I told him never to come to my house again.'' Still, she didn't believe her sons had been molested; where and when could it have happened?

Back then, a nice Catholic lady didn't discuss such things with others; Mary McDonough didn't bring it up with her boys or with Bryan MacDonald's parents. As it turns out, Ken MacDonald already knew that Frost had abused his son; his son had told him. Ken MacDonald had confronted Frost in 1980 about his ''problem'' - no one used the word ''pedophilia'' back then - but Frost was not ordered out of St. Gerard's until 1988. Even then, he was merely transferred to a parish in Milton, and then to Readville. In 1992, he was placed on ''sick leave'' by the archdiocese. In 1994, his case was reviewed by the archdiocese's sexual-abuse committee, but he has not been defrocked.

Building a case

Frost, 62, has been living in his deceased parents' home in Natick, but he could not be reached for comment despite repeated telephone calls and visits to his house. On a recent day, the two-story house with aluminum siding and red shutters looked well cared-for; flowers abound in the backyard, which abuts a public tot lot. No one answered the door, and a neighbor said he had not seen Frost in quite a while. In the town directory, however, he is still listed as ''clergyman.''

That infuriates the McDonoughs, who want to see him not only defrocked but jailed. Other victims, including Bryan MacDonald and a former rectory worker at St. Gerard's who has asked not to be identified, have filed lawsuits against Frost for alleged sexual abuse and against the Archdiocese of Boston for allegedly covering up Frost's actions and transferring him to other parishes.

The McDonough family has retained Boston attorney Jeffrey Newman and hopes to file a wrongful-death suit. They would like to recover damages to cover all the expenses they had over the years, with their son's various doctors and hospitalizations. ''We're investigating him at present,'' says Newman, who is representing three other alleged victims of Frost. According to Newman, Frost's case was reviewed by the archidocese's sexual-abuse committee in June 1994. Since Kevin's death, the McDonoughs have heard that the priest has been on the altar at a funeral in Worcester and has baptized infants in the Boston suburbs.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, says that although Frost has not yet been defrocked, ''he has not had faculties to serve as priest for a number of years.'' The archdiocese has heard that Frost has participated in funerals and other Masses and has repeatedly told Frost to stop doing so, says Coyne. In one case, Frost showed up at a funeral Mass and was turned away by the officiating priest. Asked why Frost has not yet been defrocked, Coyne replied, ''It's a very long and involved process, and if a man cooperates, it moves forward much quicker. If the guy just doesn't get it ...''

More important than laicization or a lawsuit, say the McDonoughs, is criminal prosecution. ''I don't want him doing this again,'' says Mary McDonough. ''I wake up nights thinking, `What's he doing now, chasing kids around a candy store? '''

A struggle continues

Boston attorney Douglas Sheff says he has several clients who allege that they were abused by Frost during a span ranging from the 1960s to the 1980s. ''These are people who would have functioned normally but they just can't make it,'' he says. ''They have failed relationships, suicidal depressions, failed employment, and substance abuse.''

The description fits Kevin McDonough. ''We knew he had an inability to keep a job, to keep a relationship with a woman for a long period of time, and it was clear he was not functioning as a normal person,'' says his twin. After his suicide attempt, Kevin began a downward spiral. ''Looking back, it's obvious he didn't want to live,'' says Barry McDonough. ''He set off on a 17-year period of a slow death. There are pedophiles who lurk behind trees and scoop up kids. But there's another type of predator out there who wears a collar and earns the trust and respect of parents and, through that, of kids. He comes over to the house every week with a smile. It's so sickening to me. It's beyond words.''

After they buried their son, the McDonoughs asked his girlfriend if he had ever been molested. She hesitated: She had sworn to Kevin she would never tell anyone. But she thought the truth might somehow help the couple. Yes, she said. Kevin had told her he was abused by Frost - even in his own home. Once, he said, the priest had molested him at a party; while the adults were engaged, he was with Frost in his room.

The girlfriend first asked Kevin about being abused because of problems in their relationship. ''It took awhile for him to confirm it,'' says the woman, who asked not to be identified. ''He was so angry, upset, and ashamed. I know that it affected his whole life. It turned into everything he became. I think he felt people could look at him and know. My heart is just broken for him. He had a lot to offer ... but it was just too many demons.''

The McDonoughs are also angry at the Catholic Church, which they feel has betrayed their faith and trust. ''I'm actually embarrassed to say I'm part of the church,'' Mary McDonough says.

Sometimes, John McDonough will hear his wife talking in the kitchen. ''Who are you talking to?'' he'll call out. She's talking to Frost - ''I wouldn't honor him by calling him `Father,''' she says - and calling him ''every name I can think of.'' She has some choice ones for Cardinal Bernard Law, too: ''It makes me sick to my stomach to see him parading around with the incense, like nothing has happened. It's so brazen.''

Her sister, a nun who lives in Dorchester, recently wrote to Cardinal Law about her nephew's abuse: ''Kevin is dead from an overdose in an attempt to relieve his pain. I believe that it was directly connected to the sexual abuse that he endured. So in my estimation, Peter Frost is a fraud, a perpetrator and a murderer. ... I doubt if you can personally understand or feel the pain that we are all experiencing. However, in justice, I would hope that Peter Frost be defrocked and deprived of any financial support from the Archdiocese of Boston.'' Law never responded, but a spokesman for him wrote back expressing regret at Kevin's death.

As angry as they are at the archdiocese, the McDonoughs have pulled closer than ever to their parish. Mary McDonough attends Mass daily at St. Gerard's. It is here that the couple has found solace, as well as in the therapy they have recently undertaken.

Many at St. Gerard's, including Mary and John McDonough, have become active in the Voice of the Faithful, a movement to empower the laity. ''No bishop should have the right to transfer a molester from parish to parish,'' says Mary McDonough. ''It's disgraceful. I'm ecstatic it's blown open.''

Despite their disgust with the hierarchy, the McDonoughs say their faith in God has not wavered. They will stay in the church and work to make it better.

Barry McDonough is getting married in May. His twin brother was to have been his best man, and vice versa. It was a deal they had made when they were kids. Instead, John McDonough will stand in for his son.

This story ran on page D1 of the Boston Globe on 9/18/2002.
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