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  Spokesman: Church Will Review Case, Not Reopen It

By Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
September 26, 2003

A church spokesman yesterday clarified a letter from Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley to victims' rights advocates, saying the prelate was not promising to "reopen" a controversial sexual abuse case but merely to review the case file.

"It was a private letter sent by Archbishop Sean and it wasn't intended as a press release," the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne said. "Since it got out, there is a need to clarify: 'a review of the case' is just a review of the file, not a reopening."

O'Malley sent a letter dated Sept. 12 to the Coalition of Catholics & Survivors saying he has "ordered a full review of the case and the findings of the Archdiocesan Review Board" in the case of Paul R. Edwards, 36, of Winchendon.

Edwards accused two priests, Monsignor Michael Smith Foster and the late Rev. William Cummings, of sexual abuse. A church review board dismissed his allegations.

O'Malley's letter made no mention of either priest. But Coyne said yesterday the archdiocese was limiting its review to material relating to Edwards' allegations against Cummings-.

The coalition took up Edwards' case after obtaining most of the internal church file from lawyers.

They say Edwards' claims were unfairly dismissed, in part because Foster backers launched a campaign in The Boston Globe making Edwards out to be a liar. The coalition posts its case at www.catholicsandsurvivors.net-Edwards.htm.

Susan E. Gallagher of the coalition, who received O'Malley's letter and made it available to the Herald - which reported on it yesterday - said the Edwards issue has become a major test case for victims' rights advocates. Many are skeptical of the church's ability to police itself via the nine-person review board it put in place July 1.

Gallagher also announced commitments from prominent victims' advocates - among them Mary Gail Frawley O'Dea, a psychiatrist, and Jetta Bernier, executive director of Massachusetts Citizens for Children - to sit on an independent victims' rights committee to review church handling of cases.

Gallagher said of O'Malley's letter: "Review is a serious process. If the church's review provides a substantive reason for Foster's reinstatement, we'd like to see it.

"Either way, we are going to demand full outside review," she said. "Having the church tell us, 'He's innocent because we say he is' is just not acceptable."

Roderick MacLeish Jr., Edwards' lawyer, said of the church's decision to bifurcate the Foster and Cummings cases, "It's pretty hard to partially reopen this matter. "It comes down to the fundamental question that if they determined Paul Edwards is the type of person who would lie about one priest, why would he then give credible information about another? It doesn't make sense."

 
 

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