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  Alleged Victim's Lawsuit Targets Vicar

By Eric Convey and Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
August 17, 2002

A top canon lawyer for the Archdiocese of Boston and a deceased priest whose battle with AIDS inspired his congregation are the latest targets of sexual abuse allegations against the Catholic Church in Greater Boston.

Msgr. Michael Smith Foster, who oversees marriage tribunals as judicial vicar of the archdiocese, is accused of sleeping with and fondling an altar boy in Newton from 1980 to 1985, according to a lawsuit filed this week. He becomes the highest-ranking archdiocesan official formally accused of abuse.

The alleged victim, Paul R. Edwards, 35, of Winchendon, a paralympic athlete and member of the 1998 U.S. Disabled Ski Team that went to Nagano, Japan, also asserts, in a suit filed in Suffolk Superior Court, that Foster failed to protect him from another priest, the late Rev. William J. Cummings.

Cummings, who was pastor of St. John's Parish in North Cambridge at the time of his death from AIDS in 1994, at age 52, gained fame after founding the Singing Priests in the 1970s to raise money for charity. A showman, he was nicknamed Broadway Bill.

In his lawsuit, Edwards maintains Cummings raped him in 1982 in a Manhattan hotel room during a Catholic Youth Organization outing to Radio City Music Hall.

He also alleges that when he told Foster about the alleged Cummings rape, in 1987, the monsignor, who was a judicial vicar at the time, "warned" Edwards not to speak of the episode to anyone.

Edwards declined to comment to the Herald yesterday. He told WHDH-TV (Ch. 7) Foster "told me to put it in the back of my mind and move on with my life."

"Whether I'm 65 or 35," Edwards said, "I will be known as the guy who was raped by a priest and abused by a second priest."

Foster did not return a telephone message left at his office.

Foster is well known among Catholics, heading the archdiocesan tribunal that plays a key step in determing whether to declare a marriage null - a process commonly referred to as seeking an annulment. The tribunal processes about 700 requests for annulment each year.

A 1988 law graduate from Catholic University in Washington, Foster wrote a book on annulments several years ago and published a lengthy series on the topic in The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper. The archdiocese, which is also a defendant in the cases for "negligent retention and supervision," issued a statement saying it could not comment on the suit because it had not yet been served with a copy of Edwards' civil complaint, which was filed Wednesday.

"The policy for the handling of allegations of sexual misconduct with minors by members of the clergy requires that the archdiocese gain a clear and specific understanding of the alleged misconduct in order to begin an investigation," the church's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, said.

Eric J. Parker, Edwards' lawyer, said his client came forward to address "a dark chapter in his life that's been haunting him for years."

Edwards, who was born in Sudbury, says he met Foster in 1980 while a youthful parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Newton.

His complaint describes multiple episodes in which Foster allegedly invited him into the living quarters at the Sacred Heart rectory. Edwards alleges Foster asked him to remove his clothes and then fondled him "in a sexual manner while in the bed" together.

According to press accounts, Edwards was paralyzed below the waist in 1993 in a Bay State league hockey game. He was befriended by the Boston Bruins and star player Rick Middleton, and the team helped raise funds for him.

He became deeply involved in disabled sports, joined a local sled hockey team and took up skiing.

He was a member of the 1998 Olympic disabled team in Nagano, but according to his coach at the time, Ewald Zerbisegger, "his discipline and concentration fell off after that and he did not make the team again for the next Olympics."

He later tried out for the U.S. Sled Hockey Team, and is credited with convincing Middleton to become its coach in late 2001. His complaint says he did not speak of his alleged abuse until April 2002, when he disclosed it to his wife.

Describing the alleged rape by Cummings in Manhattan, Edwards told WHDH: "It was late that night, about two o'clock in the morning, and I was sound asleep and woke up to him on top of me."

Describing his alleged talk with Foster about Cummings, Edwards said: "He was very adamant about stopping me in the story and said, 'I don't want to hear anymore, I don't want to hear it, I don't want to hear about this.' He said, 'Paul I told you that priests are people too.' "

Cummings' illness and death made news at the time because he was one of the few priests to admit publicly he suffered from AIDS.

In an extraordinary step after Cummings was absent without explanation from his Cambridge parish, Bishop John P. Boles went before the faithful at St. John's Church and read a letter in which Cummings reported his illness. In response, Cummings received thousands of cards expressing support.

While Edwards is the first to publicly accuse Cummings of sex abuse, another man made similar allegations to fellow members of a victims' group several years ago.

 
 

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