Papers Show Priests' Struggle over Accusations
By Jay Lindsay
Associated Press, carried on WNAW AM 1230
January 12, 2003
[Note: BishopAccountability.org has provided links to dozens of publicly
available Boston archdiocesan documents that are referenced in this article.
In order to make the links easy to spot but not distracting, we have selected
words in the article and linked them to the relevant document. If it was
necessary to add a brief explanation, we have marked our addition by putting
it in square brackets. We have redacted some of the documents in order
to keep confidential the identity of alleged victims and informants, and
the address of an accused priest.]
The Rev. James J. Foley's pain over
his removal from public ministry after a sexual abuse allegation is plain
in handwritten pleas for help to Cardinal Bernard Law.
"A horsewhipping would have been more preferable," he wrote in July 2000. "I have lost everything."
Foley insisted on his innocence, blamed Law for his situation and blasted
the archdiocese's "zero tolerance" policy, which removes priests
from ministry after a single allegation that's deemed credible, saying it "equals zero justice."
Foley's letters were among reams of priest personnel records released
by the Boston Archdiocese in the past month. Some files told of criminal
priests who admitted a range of terrible acts they initially denied. But
others told of priests suspended after one sex abuse accusation they vigorously
disputed but had little power to fight.
Attorney James O'Brien, who represents 11 Boston-area priests who say
they've been falsely accused, said the archdiocese's policy permanently
damages priests' reputations, whether there's one thin allegation or 100
solid accusations against them.
"It's a terrible problem," O'Brien said. "These guys are
out there, and they're forgotten."
David Clohessy of the sex abuse survivors group SNAP said "zero
tolerance" is essential for public safety because the vast majority
of abuse allegations have proven true and criminal priests have shown
they'll lie to save themselves, he said.
"For years and years, for decades, the presumption has been that
priests are innocent," he said. "Thousands of kids have been
severely scarred as a result."
The Vatican has consistently expressed concerns about due process for
priests, and demanded changes in the U.S. bishops' national discipline
plan for abusive clergy. Accused clergy now can have their cases heard
by a church tribunal to determine if they should be barred from parish
Bishop Richard Lennon, Law's interim successor since his resignation
last month, assured archdiocesan priests in a Dec. 20 letter that he would
"do everything I can to move these cases along as expeditiously as
possible." Lennon has already met with personnel officials about
handling the open cases and several are near resolution, said the Rev.
Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese.
Foley was suspended in 1999 for allegedly fondling a 14-year-old boy's
genitals at Holy Name in Boston in the 1980s [see the memo
reporting the allegation]. Foley said he talked about body building
with the alleged victim and measured body parts but not his genitals to
mark progress. "I am only guilty of gross stupidity and indiscretion,"
Archdiocesan personnel found the victim believable in two interviews
[in fact, the chancery discussed the allegation with the victim three
times 1 2 3],
but Foley called his leave a "tragedy,"
and referred to archdiocese's personnel director, the Rev. Charles Higgins,
incarnate word of the evil one," according to the documents.
Foley remains unassigned. Attempts to reach Foley through the archdiocese's
personnel office were unsuccessful and a phone number listed in the records
[BA.org note: In addition to the 1999 allegation, the Foley file contains
from a local newspaper to the archdiocese, following up on a 3/26/02 tip
letter calling Foley a "monster who preyed on ma[n]y young men"
at the same parish where the 1999 accusation had alleged abuse. This article
does not mention that letter. The tip also claimed that "several
molestation complaints" had been made about Foley. Those complaints
do not appear in the voluminous 703-page Foley file, but the file appears
to be incomplete. Documents that are included reference others that are
Dennis Keefe left
the priesthood in May 1999 after four years fighting an allegation
he said was false, according to the records. Keefe was removed from public ministry in 1995 after a 15-year-old boy accused Keefe of rubbing his rear end against the boy's crotch and touching his
genitals through his pants while wrestling in his office at St. Stephen's
in Natick. [St. Stephen's is in Framingham, not Natick. See also an archdiocesan memo detailing
Keefe's response to the allegation and a letter from Keefe's lawyer correcting that memo.]
submit to an assessment of his sexual behavior apparently viewing
it as an admission of guilt even after the archdiocese stopped his stipend
checks [1 2],
and despite personal appeals from Law. [See two letters from Law to Keefe 1 2,
a response from Keefe's lawyer, a later letter from Law, and a chancery summary of the exchanges.] Keefe did not hide his anger from archdiocesan officials.
[BA.org note: Keefe chose a secular lawyer to represent him in dealings
with the Boston archdiocese about what they considered "pastoral
issues." The discomfort that ensued is captured in this exchange
Murphy (Boston's vicar general, writing to Keefe), and Bruce
Ledoux (Keefe's lawyer, "responding" to Wilson Rogers, the
"I asked (Keefe) how he was feeling," the Rev. Brian Flatley,
an aide to Law, wrote in an August 1995 memo.
"He replied that it was a stupid question, seeing that his livelihood
and his ministry has been stripped from him."
The alleged victim did not retract his accusation in a second
interview and Keefe continued to assert his innocence. [Bishop Murphy requested the second interview after an awkward meeting with Keefe. Prior to the meeting, Murphy had requested a review of the Keefe file, and had received two assessments 1 2 stating that the allegation was "serious and credible."] With
no outstanding civil or criminal complaints, the archdiocese eventually
agreed to a deal in which Keefe was reinstated and immediately resigned. Keefe did not
return a call for comment. His lawyer, Bruce Ledoux, declined to comment.
[BA.org note: In fact, it does not appear from the Keefe file that the
reinstatement-resignation deal went through in May 1999. There are no documents in the released Keefe
file that reinstate him. Instead, Keefe broke from his long-standing practice
of communicating through his lawyer and sent a handwritten resignation
letter to Cardinal Law on 5/29/99. Chancery abuse delegate Higgins summarized the situation for Bishop Murphy on 6/10/99, and two documents were drafted:
document dated 6/25/99 withdrawing Keefe's priestly faculties as of
6/28/99, and a letter
from Law dated 6/28/99, notifying Keefe that his faculties were withdrawn
as of 7/1/99. These documents are marked "draft" and there is
no evidence in the file that they were sent. They are the latest documents
in the Keefe file.]
The Rev. Edward McDonagh was removed from St. Ann's in West Bridgewater in May, two months after the archdiocese
received a letter from a woman claiming her brother, a prostitute who died of AIDS, told
her 20 years ago he'd been raped by McDonagh in the early 1960s. The family
has not sued and McDonagh's lawyer, David Sorrenti, said he hasn't been
told the identity of the accuser or his family.
"It makes it difficult to defend," he said.
In a letter to the archdiocese, Sorrenti said the allegation was "an unsupported,
unreliable, hearsay statement" that wasn't worthy of belief.
Sorrenti said in an interview that the archdiocese, buried under civil
suits from about 400 victims, is "definitely taking the safe way
"It's easier to suspend a priest first and ask questions later,"
letter, Sorrenti pointed to the high profile case of the top archdiocese
canon lawyer the Rev. Michael Smith Foster who was suspended and cleared
on the same allegations twice in three months as an example of how quickly
the archdiocese can move. He wondered why his client wasn't getting the
same treatment. [In his letter, Sorrenti cited Archdiocese's
Commission to Urge Protection for Accused Priests, Boston Globe (9/8/02).]
The archdiocese was delayed in dealing with cases because the Vatican
didn't approve the new sex abuse policy until last month, Coyne said.
As unresolved cases are now addressed, the concern is fairness and openness,
"The thing is to make sure it's done completely and clearly above
board," he said.
[The Boston archdiocese reinstated McDonagh on 2/13/03. See Second
Priest, a Law Critic, Cleared of Abuse Charge, by Michael Rezendes
and Matt Carroll, Boston Globe (2/14/03).]