Cleric Had 2 Children, Kept Status
By Michael Rezendes and Stephen Kurkjian
Boston (MA) Globe
December 6, 2002
On Dec. 23, 1993, Cardinal Bernard F. Law heard an extraordinary admission:
the Rev. James D. Foley, while a priest at St. Bartholomew Church in Needham
during the 1960s, had fathered two children with a woman who later died
of a drug overdose after going to bed with him.
The revelation came as the cardinal questioned Foley about reports that,
while on loan to the Calgary diocese, he had had sexual relationships
with two young married women.
|Rev. James D. Foley (Globe Staff Photo
/ Tom Herde)
Law and a top deputy, Bishop John B. McCormack, were trying to decide
whether Foley was fit to remain in public ministry. And, in the end, despite
the reports of multiple affairs and Foley's admission that he had not
promptly called for emergency medical help for the dying mother of his
children, they decided he was.
Foley, indeed, remained in active ministry until yesterday afternoon,
when, as church documents were released detailing his affairs, he was
abruptly suspended as associate pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Salem,
where he has worked the last five years.
''I am completely shocked,'' said the Rev. Lawrence J. Rondeau, the church
pastor. ''He has been a perfect associate and I enjoyed working with him.''
Rondeau said the chancery never informed him of Foley's past problems,
even though church records show Foley was suspended and then reassigned
on the condition that he ''not enter a situation with women where there
is the potential to be compromised.''
Earlier, in a Globe interview in the living room of his Danvers home,
Foley admitted to the relationship with the woman who died. ''It's all
true,'' he said.
The chancery's discovery of Foley's double life and Law's decision to
allow him to continue working as an active priest are described in more
than 100 pages of church records released yesterday in a lawsuit filed
by alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.
The records, like thousands of pages of other church files released throughout
the year, document compassionate treatment of a priest who admitted to
sexual misconduct, and show that the practice of sheltering sexually abusive
clergy by transferring them to other parishes or dioceses dates to the
era of Cardinal Richard Cushing.
At a news conference yesterday, attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. said the
records in Foley's case and others also demonstrate a double standard
in the church's treatment of priests who sexually abused boys and those
who took advantage of women. ''There was obviously a differentiation made
between women and children,'' said MacLeish, of the Greenberg Traurig
law firm, which represents nearly half of the 450 people with claims against
In a deposition taken this year in the Shanley case, Law said he believes
that sexual abuse of a minor is a ''far, far worse evil'' than the molestation
of an adult. ''I find the evil of sexual abuse of a minor really qualitatively
quite different and much more intense than that'' of an adult, he said.
Since February, the archdiocese has suspended 24 priests facing outstanding
accusations of sexual misconduct with minors; one of the priests has been
exonerated and reinstated. But it was unclear yesterday why Law allowed
Foley to continue serving as an associate pastor.
Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, did not return
calls seeking comment about Law's decision to allow Foley to remain in
At his news conference, MacLeish cited a note written by McCormack saying
the mother of Foley's children ''had a lobotomy'' as an indication that
Foley might have been taking advantage of a mentally troubled woman.
MacLeish also criticized Law and McCormack, a seminary classmate of Foley's,
for not informing law enforcement officials about the woman's death, even
though notes of Law's meeting with Foley raise the possibility of what
he called ''criminal activity.'' (See the notes.)
''There is no indication that when Cardinal Law and Bishop McCormack got
this information that they did anything,'' MacLeish said. ''The police
didn't get the full story.''
A spokeswoman for state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said yesterday
that Reilly received a copy of the Foley file yesterday and is reviewing
it, while a spokeswoman for Needham police declined to answer questions
about the woman's death.
In his Globe interview yesterday, Foley at first denied any sexual involvement
with women. But he then admitted to his affair with the woman who died
of a drug overdose when he was shown a copy of a 1994 letter he wrote
to McCormack in which he tried to assure McCormack the incident would
never become public.
''Everything in the letter is true,'' Foley said.
In the letter, Foley strongly objected to an archdiosesan decision to
remove him as pastor at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Sudbury, arguing
that his affair with the deceased woman would not lead to scandal.
''While the circumstances of my first involvement are ugly and tragic,
I cannot in my wildest imaginings understand how that can ever be made
public,'' Foley wrote. ''How can the church suffer scandal from an episode
that will never possibly be revealed?''
Notes from Foley's meeting with Law provide a chilling shorthand description
of what happened: ''Had two children in '65 and relationships married
women ... overdosed while he was present ... started to faint ... he clothed
... left came back ... called 911 ... she died ... a sister knows. ...
Foley, in his interview, said he did not know his personnel records had
been publicly released until he was told by a Globe reporter. He also
insisted he should be allowed to remain in active ministry. ''Yes, I made
mistakes when I was younger but I have led a proper, priestly life since
then,'' he said. ''I should be judged by my whole career, not just what
is spelled out in that letter.''
The Foley records released yesterday make it clear that top church officials
as far back as the early 1960s were willing to give work to priests accused
of sexual misconduct in other jurisdictions to avoid public scandal.
In a May 1966 letter to the Boston chancery reporting that Foley had disappeared
from his Calgary parish in the company of a woman, Bishop Francis P. Carroll
even said he would be willing to keep Foley in active ministry if he returned.
''I would be quite willing to take Father again if we can discover where
he is,'' Carroll said. ''His problem is not known here.''
But in 1968, after a married woman's husband publicly accused Foley of
having an affair with his wife, the administrator of the Calgary diocese
wrote Cushing to say that the Boston Archdiocese would have to take Foley
back. ''Father has been seriously involved with a young married woman
(19 years of age) and had been contemplating leaving Calgary with her,''
the administrator said. ''There have been other complications with regard
to this relationship, and there are indications that he has been involved
with others. There has been considerable scandal.''
On his return to Boston, Foley was assigned to St. James Church in Haverhill,
where church records show he became involved with another woman, and was
later promoted to pastorships at St. Peter Church in Dorchester and Our
Lady of Fatima in Sudbury.
The rediscovery of his sexual affairs was made in 1993 by Bishop Alfred
C. Hughes, an aide to Law who is now the archbishop of the New Orleans
arcdiocese, months after Law implemented a policy on clergy sexual abuse
of minors. But the immediate impulse of McCormack, now bishop of the Manchester,
N.H., diocese, was to forgive Foley's transgressions.