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  New Allegations Re-Ignite Abuse Issue

Union Leader (Manchester NH)
January 15, 2004

BOSTON -- 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 yesterday.

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 -- twice wrote to officials in the Melbourne Archdiocese that the issue was dead.

"There have been no repercussions since Barry left," one of the letters, written Dec. 15, 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 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."

The release of the documents prompted renewed calls for McCormack's resignation by survivors of child sexual abuse by clergy and their advocates.

Gary Bergeron of Lowell, who was abused as a child by the late Rev. Joe Birmingham, said McCormack's 1994 statements negate the bishop's earlier defense that church officials didn't fully understand how to deal with sexually abusive priests in the 1960s, 70s and 80s.

"It's absolutely incredible to me that, as late as 1994, which is after Cardinal Law's new (sexual abuse) policy came into effect. . . and when everybody's eyes were supposed to be opening and this is McCormack's response," he said.

Bergeron said McCormack lacked the moral authority to lead the Manchester diocese and should step down.

"This isn't about just following policy. It's about doing what's morally correct," Bergeron said.

New Hampshire Catholics for Moral Leadership also cited the Robinson case in reiterating its call for McCormack to resign.

"The corruption of John McCormack in handling this case is further testament of his horrific record of protecting priests at all costs," Carolyn Disco, one of the group's founding members, said in a statement.

Diocesan spokesman Pat McGee referred all comment on the documents to the Boston archdiocese.

"These files relate to the archdiocese and how it handled its matters during that period," he said.

McGee said McCormack has no plans to resign. Rather, he said the bishop intends to continue leading the diocese and recently implemented several new initiatives to better prevent and detect child sexual abuse and clergy misconduct. Union Leader staff reporter Kathryn Marchocki contributed to this report.

 
 

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