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Spotlight Report

Lawyers say archdiocese could defrock some priests

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 1/6/2004

Following the $85 million settlement with victims of clergy sexual abuse, the Archdiocese of Boston appears to be gearing up an effort to defrock or otherwise discipline some accused priests, according to lawyers for abuse victims.

The lawyers said yesterday that they have received an increased number of requests lately from the archdiocese for their clients to participate in canonical court proceedings, the church's internal forum for disciplining priests.

"The topic has come up during our discussions with the archdiocese," said Boston lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represented more than 200 abuse victims who last month received settlement checks from the archdiocese. "We are seeing lots and lots of letters coming in . . . saying they want to see our clients at some point."

MacLeish declined to say which priests archdiocesan officials inquired about, but Carmen L. Durso, a Boston lawyer who represented more than 40 abuse victims, said he had recently received numerous similar letters regarding several priests who had been accused as part of the massive clergy sexual abuse litigation.

Durso said those priests included the Rev. Bernard J. Lane, who lawyers for victims claim molested at least 17 boys, many of them when he was director of Alpha-Omega House, a now-closed Littleton home for troubled adolescents. Lane has denied the allegations through his lawyer.

Over the last two years, the archdiocese has placed more than 30 priests on administrative leave pending internal church investigations and possible canon law proceedings. While a small number have been reinstated, more than two dozen remain in limbo -- unable to say Mass or perform other duties but technically remaining priests -- while the church investigations continue.

Under church law, priests can choose voluntarily to be laicized or can be removed from the priesthood involuntarily after a lengthy process governed by canon law.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said that the church has numerous ongoing cases of clergy misconduct that it is investigating.

"The policy of the Archdiocese of Boston is not to make comment regarding the status of any investigation of clergy misconduct until a final determination has been made in the case," Coyne said.

"I do not possess any information regarding the status of any particular case other than that all cases are still ongoing."

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