Woburn Priest Denies Sex Assault Charge
Pastor Says He Witnessed Crime, but Boy Recants
By Paul Langner
January 7, 1994
With about 100 of his parishioners from Woburn crowding the courtroom and the halls outside in a show of support, a Catholic priest pleaded not guilty yesterday at his arraignment on a charge of indecent assault and battery of a child, a crime allegedly witnessed by his pastor.
The indictment was brought against Rev. Paul Manning even though the 11-year-old boy who was allegedly abused has recanted earlier statements of being abused and now maintains "that nothing happened," Assistant District Attorney Martha Coakley told Judge Robert A. Barton during her presentation in Middlesex Superior Court.
In addition, Coakley said, the boy's family also maintains that the child was not abused. But she said that the prosecution will proceed and that the main witness against Father Manning will be his pastor, Rev. Paul Sughrue.
Coakley told Barton that Woburn police were notified last Sept. 7 by Father Sughrue who said he had witnessed a possible child sexual abuse by Father Manning the previous Sunday, Sept. 5. in the rectory of St. Charles parish. After more than three months of investigation, and despite the alleged victim's recantation, an indictment was handed up Dec. 28, Coakley said.
It is believed the Father Manning case marks the first time a local pastor has turned in a priest in his parish on sexual abuse charges.
In court yesterday, Coakley said that Father Sughrue had been sitting in his study that Sunday afternoon when he heard "five sharp, painful screams" coming from an upstairs room.
He thought he recognized the screams, Coakley said, and when he went to the upstairs room, he peered through the door and found two persons on a La-Z-Boy chair. He saw the undressed legs of an adult man and "a smaller pair of unclothed legs" and "two bodies moving in rhythmic motion."
Father Sughrue "naturally was taken somewhat aback," Coakley said, and ran down the stairs. He confronted Father Manning some time later, Coakley said, but Father Manning indignantly denied the suggestion of sexual abuse. Father Manning told the pastor he and the boy had been wrestling, according to Coakley.
After taking Labor Day off, Coakley said, Father Sughrue went to the Woburn police.
Their investigation at first seemed to confirm Father Sughrue's fears, Coakley said, but the boy later recanted. However, laboratory tests found seminal fluid on the La-Z-Boy chair, she said.
During yesterday's arraignment, Father Manning, who as assistant pastor worked with the parish's young people and with the Spanish-speaking parishioners, pleaded "not guilty" in a firm voice.
His attorney, Eileen Donoghue, said Father Manning has been a priest 26 years and has always been popular with the young.
Father Manning, Donoghue said, "unequivocally denies the charges," and has told her that he and the boy had been engaged in "horseplay."
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