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Spotlight Report

Archdiocese reinstates Foster after 2d probe

By Michael Rezendes and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 10/31/2002

Monsignor Michael Smith Foster (Globe Staff Photo / David L. Ryan)

Accused of abuse and absolved, Msgr. Michael Smith Foster returned to parish work sobered by his experience.  
Coverage of the Foster case

For a second time, the Archdiocese of Boston has reinstated Monsignor Michael Smith Foster to active ministry after a two-month ordeal during which he twice took a leave of absence, despite serious questions about the credibility of an alleged sexual abuse victim.

In an unsigned statement released yesterday just before 10 p.m., the archdiocese said it had completed a second investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct made by one person against Foster and determined that the accusation is not credible.

The statement said that Cardinal Bernard F. Law had reviewed the allegations against Foster and the recommendation of an archdiocesan review board set up to examine sexual abuse charges and ''determined that the complaint is unsubstantiated.''

Foster's reinstatement as a priest and the top canon lawyer for the church makes him the first to be returned to duty among 24 priests from the archdiocese who had left active ministry since February because of allegations of sexual misconduct. But last night's action by the archdiocese left unanswered questions about the process used by the church to examine allegations of sexual misconduct by priests. And, it remained unclear why the archdiocese made the announcement last night when, according to people knowledgeable about the church investigations, officials had concluded for the second time more than two weeks ago that Foster would be reinstated.

The Foster case has underscored complaints by priests that the church was suspending priests from their duties without regard to their due process rights, and, as Foster's case demonstrated, without making any inquiries to determine beforehand whether the charges might be false.

Foster, in a statement, thanked friends and fellow priests who have supported him over the last two months and also said that he does not want his case to obscure the suffering of victims of clergy sexual abuse.

''I am keenly aware that this painful experience has been shared by my family, brother priests, friends, parishioners, and so many others, and I am grateful for the prayer, love, and support I have received,'' Foster said. ''I do not want my ordeal to overshadow the immense pain that so many children and youths have suffered from abuse. Please remember that they are the ultimate victims of this crisis.''

Foster's travails began Aug. 14, when Paul R. Edwards filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court accusing Foster and the late Rev. William J. Cummings of molesting him while at two Newton parishes in the early 1980s.

But a week later the Globe reported that Edwards has a history of inventing stories, and that friends of Foster and Cummings had made statements that contradicted crucial details of Edwards's allegation of abuse. On Aug. 29, Edwards's lawyer, Eric J. Parker, asked the court's permission to withdraw from the case, prompting Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney to say she had ''significant concerns'' about the credibility of the accusations.

Within days, Edwards withdrew his lawsuit ''with prejudice,'' meaning it could not be filed again, and Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said his office would launch a criminal inquiry into whether Edwards had filed false charges.

Against that backdrop, Law told Foster that church investigators had exonerated him of the sexual abuse allegations and invited him to concelebrate a Sunday Mass with him at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

But on Sept. 13, Edwards contacted the chancery and offered what church officials described as ''new information'' regarding the allegation against Foster, and Foster went on leave again.

After Foster went on leave the second time, the Globe reported that church investigators had not sought interviews with any of more than a dozen people who gave the Globe information that appeared to exonerate Cummings, even though their testimony also cast doubt on the credibility of Foster's accuser.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

Walter V. Robinson can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 10/31/2002.
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