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Miss. conduct
Southern priest-abuse cases haunt Law
Cardinal hit with new Miss. charge of ignoring abuse

By Robin Washington
Boston Herald
June 10, 2002

JACKSON, Miss. - A man who says he settled a priest sex abuse suit here two years ago for $43,000 said yesterday his mother asked Bernard Cardinal Law to intervene to remove his molester more than three decades ago, but Law did not act on the request.

The allegation is the second direct warning to Law, the one-time vicar general of the Diocese of Natchez-Jackson, about a molester priest that Law failed to remove. The allegation also brings to four the number of alleged molesters who served during his tenure here.

"I told my mother when it was going on. My mother went to Law. She told him about it but he didn't do anything," Mark Belenchia, 46, of Hattiesburg about his alleged molestation at the hands of the Rev. Bernard Haddican, who died in New Jersey 1996, after numerous reassignments.

Belenchia said Haddican sexually abused him for about three years beginning when he was 12 and that his mother, Mae, reached out for help from Law, whom she had gotten to know when both worked in the civil rights movement in the turbulent 1960s.

Boston Archdiocese officials declined comment on the Mississippi cases, referring questions to the Diocese of Jackson. Those officials did not respond to repeated calls but are expected to issue a statement this week.

The new allegation follows Law's reported admission last week at a Boston deposition that he failed to keep the Rev. George L. Broussard - his close friend and classmate at the Josephinium Seminary in Columbus, Ohio - away from children after being warned Broussard was molesting children.

Witnesses at the deposition said Law also acknowledged "discussions" about child sex allegations against another priest but similarly did not act.

A lawsuit being filed here as early as today charges Law with negligence resulting in the ongoing molestation of Kenneth Morrison, 37, now of Chicago, and Morrison's brothers, all by Broussard.

A second suit on behalf of a sole plaintiff, Angie Phillips, charges that the Rev. Thomas Boyce, now of Batesville, Miss., repeatedly raped her beginning in 1977 when she was 12.

And Phillips' lawyer, Anthony Simon, said Law was in charge when another priest, the Rev. Paul Madden, molested a Mississippi boy while on a trip to Ireland.

"Bernie Law was at the helm when it happened," said Simon, who is also co-counsel in the Morrison suit.

In the Morrison suit, Broussard, who has left the priesthood and now lives in Houma, La., is charged with molesting boys at Jackson's St. Peter's Parish, a prestigious cathedral kitty-corner from the governor's mansion.

Though Law was warned by Dr. Francis Morrison that Broussard was abusing boys - at the time, Morrison had no idea his sons were among them - Law did not act before he left Mississippi to become Bishop of Springfield-Cape Giradeau, Mo., in December 1973.

In 1974, Broussard was transferred on Law's recommendation to St. Clare's Parish, a beachfront church in the coastal town of Waveland, Miss.

The area is one of the few with a sizable Catholic population in the heavily Protestant, Bible Belt state.

But Law did not tell law enforcement or St. Clare's parishioners the reason for the move, Simon said.

At the tiny St. Mary's Parish on a country route leading out of Batesville, a church worker said Boyce was on vacation.

But in Houma, a working-class city in Louisiana's Cajun country, Broussard rolled his wheelchair to the door of his fashionable ranch house on a well-kept, tree-lined street, though he declined extensive comment to a Herald reporter.

"I don't have anything to say. I have to get dressed," he said, wearing only a pair of black shorts.

He did answer a question about Boyce, however, denying that the two ever served together.

"No, I never worked with him. I don't have any idea who that is," he said.

But Phillips disputed that.

"That's unbelievable. They were best friends," she said, adding that she was sexually abused by Broussard as well as Boyce.

"I have photographs of them together. They resided together in the Jackson rectory. They were in my home frequently," she said.

Andrew Fanguy, a neighbor of Broussard, called him "a nice person."

But if the accusations are true, he said, "Then what he did is wrong."

Referring to Broussard's infirmity, he added, "I don't think he could do anything like that now."

Michael Raff of Jackson, a former priest who also served during Law's tenure, said he was shocked by the allegation against Boyce.

"I just can't believe it," he said.

Like Law, Raff was involved in civil rights in the 1960s.

"Bernie Law was very important in changing things here. He took a lot of heat for it," Raff said, adding that some of that criticism came from fellow Catholics.

But Mae Belenchia found that to be a common bond, her son said.

"My mother was one of the first white teachers to teach at a black school. She worked very closely with him," he said.

Of his alleged abuser, Belenchia said Haddican began abusing him at St. Mary's Parish in Shelby, Miss.

"I knew there were other victims. This guy had parties. I've seen him abuse other people," he said.

At one time, the priest was a pastor at Mississippi's notorious Parchman Prison.

"He would check the convicts out and bring them to the parish," he said.

Belenchia called on Law to accept responsibility for having let molester priests continue to prey on children.

"At one time I would have called him a family member," he said. "But now I have more respect for (televangelist) Jimmy Swaggart than I do him."

Robin Washington may be reached at rwashington@bostonherald.com

 
 

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