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  Tearful Accuser Urges Church to Reopen Case

By Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington
Boston Herald
December 28, 2002

The only clergy abuse claimant whose allegations have been dismissed this year by the Archdiocese of Boston urged the church yesterday to reopen his case and described how untrue statements about him - many of which were accepted as fact by church investigators - have shattered his life.

Paul R. Edwards, 35, of Winchendon said at a news conference that he and his wife, Shannon, suffered "catastrophically damaging" effects after supporters of Monsignor Michael Smith Foster embarked on a concerted campaign to spread unsubstantiated stories about him.

"Public comments have portrayed me as a man with no validity, a movie-star 'want-a-be,' a 'self-proclaimed paraplegic,' a 'sociopath,' 'psychopath' and a 'danger,' " he said. "I think the damage has been done. Paul Edwards will always be known as 'a liar.' "

In August, Edwards accused Foster of inappropriate contact with him in the mid-1980s in his rectory bedroom at Sacred Heart Church in Newton. Edwards separately accused the late Rev. William J. Cummings of raping him during an out-of-town trip.

On Oct. 30, the church dismissed the allegations against Foster and reinstated the high-ranking canon lawyer, who had hired four attorneys and a public relations firm to press his case.

Among documents supporting the reinstatement was an assessment of Edwards as "pathological liar" and "psychopath" by a church psychiatrist, the Rev. Dr. Edwin H. Cassem, who had never met him.

That fact and other details of the secret internal probe, revealed in church files released in November, infuriated clergy victims' advocates, 20 of whom stood with Edwards yesterday to support his demand the church reopen the case.

"After seeing what I've seen of how he's been able to substantiate most everything he said, I have no reason not to believe Paul - no reason whatsoever," said William J. Gately, New England co-coordinator for the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests. "I think he's been called to prove his abuse more than anyone I know."

When the Herald reported the details of the Foster probe Dec. 13, including the Cassem diagnosis, the archdiocese said the case was closed and would not be reopened.

But yesterday, when asked about the public call by Edwards and victims' rights groups, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a church spokesman, said: "The archdiocese encourages any individual wishing to make an allegation involving sexual misconduct against a member of the clergy to come forward" and contact one of the church's two offices dealing with abuse.

Carmen L. Durso, counsel for Edwards, responded: "You may be assured we will take them up on any offer to revisit the case. Without the work of the victims' support groups, we probably would never have seen this change."

In a statement issued through his lawyer, Peter G. Hermes, Foster said: "The allegations are false. The investigation was thorough and the decision to reinstate me was based on the totality of the evidence. The finding by the archdiocese that the allegations were unsubstantiated is the truth."

Asked if Foster would follow through on a written threat to sue Edwards if he discussed the case, Hermes said: "If Mr. Edwards makes no further allegations of substantive bad conduct Michael has no intention of bringing suit."

Of the demand for the church to drop its secrecy on the probe, Hermes said: "Monsignor Foster has no objection to questions being answered concerning the investigation, but he himself does not control the access to the information. If you have questions concerning the investigation, direct them (to the Archdiocese of Boston)."

Durso said he initially doubted Edwards based on media accounts denigrating his credibility.

But he said he subsequently agreed to represent Edwards for free after studying Foster's file and Edwards' own documentation, and ultimately determined the church's probe "was not full, not fair and not accurate."

Durso said a series of charges against Edwards - that he was not truly a paraplegic, never a police officer on Martha's Vineyard and faked deafness in high school - were easily refuted by a physician's diagnosis of Edwards, by calls to Vineyard police chiefs, and by the fact that Edwards is proficient in American Sign Language.

"Imagine my surprise when I learned that the church psychiatrist who diagnosed Paul as a faker and a liar had never in fact dealt with him in person," Durso said.

Durso also noted Foster admitted to church officials Edwards was indeed in Foster's rectory bedroom in the mid-1980s.

Given that Foster's supporters stated there was no way Edwards would have been allowed in Foster's room, Durso said: "Why did Monsignor Foster not come forward with the truth when his many allies were falsely maligning Paul?"

 
 

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