The Boston Files
By Rita Ciolli and Joseph Mallia
In 1995, Bishop William F. Murphy, then the second-highest ranking official in the Archdiocese of Boston, faced a grave problem: One of his priests was accused of sexually molesting a boy at a church-run juvenile detention center.
Murphy decided to allow the Rev. C. Melvin Surette to remain active and then gave the cleric $14,000 to start a job bank to find work for other priests accused of abusing children. Murphy also gave Surette an allowance to live in private housing and extra money for a car and parking expenses.
The accuser, who was 16 at the time of the alleged abuse, received a $50,000 settlement.
The Rev. Richard Lennon, who was then Murphy's assistant, wrote him a memo soon after criticizing the bishop's treatment of Surette, "lest precedents set lead to similar requests or to a lowering of morale, as some are treated differently than others.”
Lennon is now in charge of the Archdiocese of Boston and Murphy, leader of the Diocese of Rockville Centre, is preparing to testify Tuesday before a Massachusetts grand jury investigating whether anyone in the hierarchy of the Boston church can be prosecuted for decades of allegedly shielding abusive priests.
The Surette case is one of about 100 confidential priest personnel files and other documents -- totaling more than 40,000 pages -- examined by Newsday recently at a Massachusetts court. Judge Constance M. Sweeney, who is overseeing the civil lawsuits against the archdiocese, ordered the church to turn over the internal documents to accusers' lawyers.
Overall, the public records show that Murphy, as Cardinal Bernard Law's top deputy in Boston for almost eight years, was involved in almost one-third of the priest sexual abuse cases at the heart of the scandal there. Not only did Murphy supervise the assignment of priests, he was privy to all confidential records on accusers' complaints, treatment and settlements. He also took care of accused priests' legal bills and helped arrange housing and jobs for them.
Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly is examining theories that the Boston hierarchy may have acted as accessories to the sexual abuse of minors because under their supervision suspected priests continued to molest.
"There was a cover-up. There was an elaborate scheme,” Reilly said in December when his office subpoenaed Murphy, Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., and other Law deputies. Law resigned a few days later. Bishop Thomas Daily of Brooklyn testified before the grand jury last month, and Law is scheduled to appear by the end of this month.
While Reilly has said the record is "profoundly disturbing,” he is unsure whether Massachusetts state law would permit criminal charges. At the time these crimes occurred, clerics and church officials were not required to report suspected abuse to authorities. Reilly's office declined to comment on Murphy's testimony.
Murphy, who was given a list by Newsday of the priests whose files are detailed in this story, declined to comment. An e-mail sent Friday by Joanne Novarro, spokeswoman for the Diocese of Rockville Centre, said, "Due ... to the confidential nature of a grand jury investigation, and on the advice of counsel, ... believes it would be inappropriate to discuss his testimony before he has, in fact, given it. If he can be of any help after the testimony, he will do so to the extent he is able.”
The internal memos show that Murphy's participation went from reassigning suspected priests to other Boston parishes and arranging for priests to be transferred to dioceses in New Mexico, California, North Carolina and other states without fully revealing the clerics' history of abuse.
Murphy had a hand in dealing with some of the most notorious cases -- those of serial pedophile priests John Geoghan and Paul Shanley -- and other less-known cases, such as that of Rev. Thomas Forry, an alcoholic priest and accused child molester who allegedly threw a rectory housekeeper down the stairs.
In Boston, Murphy's official title was vicar general and moderator of the curia; in essence, he was the chief of staff to Law from 1993 until Murphy arrived on Long Island in 2001. Murphy had more scheduled meetings with Law than anyone else in the church hierarchy, Law's calendars from 1993 to 2001 show.
Copies of all documents about priests accused of child molestation went to Murphy, who filed the records in his office -- these were known as "the Murphy files” -- according to the deposition of a Murphy aide, the Rev. Brian Flatley.
While Murphy was in the top job, there also was a Rev. William F. Murphy working in the diocese, who was titled "delegate” to Law for sexual abuse cases and was responsible for dealing with those complaints. The two have been confused in news reports, a point the Rockville Centre diocese also made in its e-mail.
"It is important to note that while many news outlets have continued to allege that Bishop Murphy had a major part in the handling of Boston priests who had sexually abused young people, the Cardinal's delegate for sexual abuse issues was a Father William F. Murphy, not the current Bishop of Rockville Centre. They are two different priests.”
The delegate Murphy is 17 years younger than Bishop Murphy, 62, and is not a monsignor. Bishop Murphy was a monsignor by 1993 and an auxiliary bishop by 1995. The documents also show that during the almost eight years Bishop Murphy was the deputy in Boston, much of the information Law received on abusive priests was channeled through him.
In the cases handled by Bishop Murphy, the files highlight an often-conflicting picture of how he viewed offending priests. In one instance, Murphy praised the Rev. Gary Balcom for readily admitting that he sexually molested eight or nine children.
"I several times commended him for his honesty, his sense of responsibility, and his commitment to building a life,” Murphy said in a May 27, 1997, letter to Law. "He is for example the first one of these men who has openly admitted that he has ‘done terrible things' and is sorry for them and wants to make amends. I assured him that by cooperating as he has, he has done a great deal in that direction.” [This letter was posted by Newsday in a gallery to illustrate this story.]
Balcom agreed to leave the priesthood the next year.
However, Murphy also displays unusual warmth and empathy for Shanley and Geoghan, who strongly protested any effort to be removed.
Shanley cultivated notoriety at the Boston archdiocese by giving several public speeches in the 1970s and 1980s advocating sex between men and boys, according to his 2,606-page confidential file.
By the mid-1990s Shanley and Murphy exchanged numerous letters arranging to have Shanley's legal fees paid because some accusers had hired lawyers and the Boston archdiocese was negotiating for their silence in exchange for financial settlements.
Shanley expressed gratitude for Murphy's warmth and prompt attention to his requests for money and other favors, greeting him in one 1996 letter as "Most Reverend and dear Bishop Bill.”
In March 1994, Shanley asked for an extra $300 a month to help pay the high cost of his rent in New York City, and Murphy pleaded his case before the relevant Boston committee -- which Murphy headed and which approved the payments, records show.
When fear of negative publicity led the Archdiocese of New York to remove Shanley, an accused pedophile, from his job at Leo House, a church-affiliated hotel for students and families, he moved to San Diego in 1997.
Shanley, 71, was arrested in San Diego in May 2002 and now faces charges in Boston that in the 1980s he took boys out of religion classes and raped and indecently assaulted them in his nearby rectory, in bathrooms and in the confessional. Shanley, who pleaded not guilty in May and is free on bail, faces civil suits from some of his 26 known accusers.
More evidence of Murphy's deference and slow pace is seen in Geoghan's case.
"Jack, please know that I always have great affection and concern for you personally,” the bishop wrote in a 1995 letter, asking him to resign. [This letter from Murphy to Geoghan was posted by Newsday in a gallery to illustrate this story.] Geoghan and Murphy grew up in the same West Roxbury, Mass., neighborhood, each a few blocks from Holy Name Church, where Murphy was an altar boy. "Our families have been close through the years and I have for you and for all your family great respect and admiration.” Three different church-funded psychotherapists had declared Geoghan a pedophile before three more boys, all brothers, said the priest, then 58, had sexually molested them in 1994, records show. Geoghan also made obscene telephone calls to the boys in December 1994, the boys' mother told the archdiocese.
Murphy spent two years trying to persuade Geoghan to step down from his archdiocesan office job and go for more psychological testing. During that time, Geoghan remained a priest on restricted ministry -- he could say Mass with special permission -- despite dozens of complaints.
Geoghan was defrocked in 1998 and, in January 2002, was convicted of child molestation and sentenced to a prison term of 9 to 10 years. The Boston archdiocese in September 2002 agreed to pay $10 million to settle the claims of 86 men and women who said Geoghan molested them as children.
The case of the Rev. Paul Mahan appears to be one in which Murphy and other church officials failed to properly monitor a problem priest.
An April 1994, memo shows Murphy was aware of several recent allegations against Mahan just before he was released from St. Luke Institute, a Maryland treatment center that specializes in treating pedophile priests, and went to live in his family's summer home about 15 miles up the coast from Boston.
Although Mahan was released into the archdiocese's custody in "guarded” condition, and was still on its payroll, records show officials never checked on him. However, his therapists at St. Luke's were troubled by his failure to keep in touch, church documents show, so St. Luke's sent several priests to visit him in the Marblehead, Mass., house. They found Mahan drinking, in violation of his treatment rules, with boys living in the house with him and one boy apparently sharing his bedroom. The visitors found Mahan wearing only a bathrobe and one boy dressed only in a bedsheet.
St. Luke's reported to Boston church officials that Mahan exuded "overt encouragement of sexuality” and said the visitors feared the boys had been molested. Top church officials discussed whether to report the priest to the state child-welfare authority.
"The possibility of a necessary filing with the [Department of Social Services] was discussed ... Fr. McCormack to discuss with Msgr. Murphy,” reads an Oct. 21, 1994 internal memo. There is no record showing whether Murphy or any other official ever made a report.
The archdiocese later was sued by the families of two boys who accused Mahan of molesting them in 1994. Murphy was still supervising Mahan in the summer of 1995, a July 3 memo from Flatley to him shows. "A danger to men, women and children. Bottom line -- therapists words, with Paul listening: ‘is Paul a risk? YES!'” [This memo from Flatley to Murphy about Mahan was posted by Newsday in a gallery to illustrate this story.]
In other cases, Murphy seemed determined to get rid of a molester by urging him to voluntarily ask the Vatican to release him from his vows, a much shorter process than trying to remove him under church law. A December 1999 memo shows that Murphy grew impatient with the archdiocese's slow pace in persuading the Rev. Robert Morrissette to file the necessary papers with the Vatican.
"He has to move off the dime. Tell him that he has three months in which to have everything completed and into the Holy See. If not, I want to see him and I will be very, very clear with him,” Murphy said. [This memo from Murphy to Higgins about Morrissette was posted by Newsday in a gallery to illustrate this story.]
Archdiocese files showed three sexual misconduct allegations involving the priest, who admitted to kissing and fondling a 16-year-old boy.
These cases highlight the conflicts of church bureaucrats who tried to work in a governing system constrained by centuries-old rules and procedures and steeped in a culture of secrecy.
"The overarching question is, are these bad men who had some kind of moral flaw and misused the system, or is this a system that took good men and kind of twisted them into making these decisions,” said Jim Post, national president of Voice of the Faithful, the grassroots movement by lay Catholics who seek a more active role in the church.
Post, who has followed Murphy's career, describes the bishop as one of the best and the brightest clerics to ever rise through the Boston ranks -- a priest who was clearly being groomed for a leadership role in the American church.
"Bill Murphy would never challenge the system. He would work in a very creative way to use his skill to get the right thing done within the constraints that were there. But he always knew he was working for Cardinal Law, and that in the end, there would be benefit to him. That he would become a bishop and have a diocese of his own,” Post said.
Murphy's creative approach in letting Surette start a job bank worked. In 1998, Surette found work for another accused child molester, the Rev. Ronald Paquin, as a chaplain at a Cambridge hospital. By this time, the archdiocese knew of 18 credible abuse complaints against him and already had paid more than a half-million dollars to settle six abuse cases against him, records show.
Paquin remained in his new job until he was removed from ministry in 2000. Last month he was sentenced to a maximum of 15 years in prison for repeatedly raping a 12-year-old altar boy beginning in 1990.
Despite the clear evidence that the church failed to protect children from abusive priests, the outcome of the criminal inquiry in Boston is unclear.
Attorney General Reilly could develop legal theories that would allow prosecutions of Law and others. "When you think of what people get prosecuted for and put in jail for, it is unbelievable that some prosecutor won't take the risk,” said Wendy Murphy, a former Boston prosecutor who is now a visiting fellow at Harvard Law School. With Law gone, she questioned whether there is the political will in Boston to support the indictment of church leaders.
"Still, there is huge exposure here by testifying before the grand
jury,” said Wendy Murphy, who is of no relation to either Murphy.
"The attorney general could always have some serious smoking-gun
documents we don't know about.”
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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