Priest Returns to Australia before Probe into Possible Sex Abuse

By Barney Zwartz
Associated Press State & Local Wire
January 14, 2004

A priest serving in the Boston Archdiocese in the 1990s abruptly left for his native Australia before civil authorities could launch an investigation into a sexual relationship he had with a 16-year-old boy, according to church documents filed in Superior Court.

The boy, who may have been the legal age of consent at the time, refused to cooperate with authorities when asked about the relationship several years later in 2002, The Boston Globe reported. No charges were ever filed.

The Rev. Barry Robinson returned to Australia in April 1994 without being questioned by authorities even though he told a therapist that he had had sexual relations with the boy in the rectory of Blessed Sacrament Church in Boston's Jamaica Plain neighborhood, the Globe reported Wednesday.

According to church records, Robinson said the boy was 16 at the time of the sexual encounters, but investigators still wanted to verify the boy's age and determine whether he was coerced. When investigators sought to interview Robinson, they were told he had left the country, the Globe reported.

The archdiocese refused at the time to provide information on the youth's identity, said David Procopio, spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.

The Rev. John B. McCormack - then the archdiocese's principal officer dealing with clergy sexual abuse allegations and now the Bishop of Manchester, N.H. - twice wrote to officials in the Melbourne Archdiocese that the issue was dead. McCormack refused through his attorney to comment.

"There have been no repercussions since Barry left," one of the letters, written in July 1994, said. "At one time, the civil authorities were looking for further information about him, but were unsuccessful, to my knowledge."

A year earlier, the archdiocese had adopted a policy on handling allegations of clergy sexual abuse. Cardinal Bernard Law disregarded requests from victims that the policy mandate that such allegations be forwarded to law enforcement, but he said the church wouldn't oppose such reporting if it assisted the alleged victim.

As soon as Boston Archdiocese officials learned of the relationship between Robinson and the boy, they barred Robinson from celebrating Mass, said archdiocese spokesman the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne. Coyne said the boy's family wished that the matter remain confidential.

The state Department of Social Services informed the district attorney's office of the allegations, but the church did not, believing Robinson's therapist had referred the case, Coyne said. State law at the time did not require the church to alert authorities.

McCormack had no control over Robinson to prevent his return to Australia, Coyne said. "That was a decision made by Robinson and his archbishop" in Melbourne, Coyne said.

The documents were filed Tuesday by the law firm Greenberg Traurig in connection with lawsuits against the Rev. Paul R. Shanley and other priests.

Monsignor Les Tomlinson, vicar general for the Melbourne Archdiocese, said in response to written questions by the Globe that Robinson had not been contacted by law enforcement authorities once he returned to Australia. Robinson is now an assistant pastor at a parish in the Melbourne Archdiocese, where he is allowed to work under supervision and safeguards recommended by psychiatrists.

Lawyer Roderick MacLeish Jr. of the firm said Tuesday that he intended to ask a Superior Court judge to allow him to depose McCormack and other church officials. MacLeish said McCormack's notes show that a lawyer in Boston was going to be consulted on Robinson's behalf to determine his "freedom and propriety to return to Australia."


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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