Maligned Priest Accuser Learns of Additional Claim
By Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington
January 16, 2003
He was maligned by a church psychologist, disparaged by old acquaintances and attacked in print as ``a self-described paraplegic.''
So word yesterday that he is no longer the only alleged victim of a former priest did little to comfort Paul R. Edwards of Winchendon.
``I take no solace in learning that another minor was abused by the same priest who molested me,'' the 35-year-old former Newton altar boy said. ``My life has been shattered and my reputation ruined.
``My question is, `Why did this information come out only now if it helps make people believe me?' ''
Edwards spoke after learning for the first time that the late Rev. William J. Cummings is the subject of a lawsuit filed in Middlesex Superior Court in June and served on the Boston archdiocese Aug. 29.
Edwards had also accused Cummings - as well as a second priest, Monsignor Michael Smith Foster - in his own abuse suit filed in August.
But Edwards' allegations against both men - that Cummings raped him, and that Foster touched him inappropriately several times - were dismissed by the church Oct. 30. Foster was reinstated to great fanfare - the first investigated clergyman to regain his post.
Before that, Edwards had checked himself into a mental institution, where his doctors and lawyer advised him to dismiss the suit. He agreed never to speak again of the matter.
He then became a poster boy of sorts for ``false allegations.''
His pillorying, much of which took place in the media, ``has devastated my wife and me, and also ruined our chances for adoption.''
Church officials said yesterday they learned of the second suit against Cummings on Sept. 13.
That coincides with the date Foster was suspended for a second time by the church. (He had been suspended and reinstated earlier in the process.) But the church never announced the fact of the second suit naming Cummings.
A church official, the Rev. Christopher R. Coyne, said yesterday, ``it would be wrong to conclude'' the second suit was not reviewed as part of the church's probe.
The suit was filed by a Somerville man alleging he was molested by Cummings in 1982, at age 10.
The church has refused to make public any aspect of the review process it uses to assess the validity of clergy abuse claims. Coyne stood by the reinstatement of Foster despite calls by victims' rights groups - reiterated strongly yesterday as word of the second Cummings suit spread - to take a fresh look at the case.
``The facts of Mr. Edwards' charges against Monsignor Foster stand or fall on their own weight,'' he said. ``They were thoroughly investigated by the Archdiocesan Review Board and the determination was made that the allegations lacked credibility and substance.''
Carmen L. Durso, who is representing Edwards now, disagreed. ``I always felt strongly about Paul's credibility,'' he said. ``But I am pleased to see there is evidence other people can now cite to support their own defenses of him.''
Durso and other lawyers said yesterday a key credibility test for allegations are charges by other accusers. Durso said the second suit adds substance to Edwards' abuse claims because the accuser, a John Doe, came forward quietly before Edwards made his claims.
Victims' advocates have rallied to Edwards because they feel he was maligned and see his treatment as a test case of the church's commitment to probing its clerics.
Susan Gallagher of Survivors First said, ``In their first and only investigation of a priest so far, the church demonstrated it is entirely incapable of investigating itself. We still don't know why Foster was reinstated.''
Gallagher and others said they were outraged in December when Foster's file - released along with personnel files on scores more accused priests - indicate the church based its decision to discredit Edwards and reinstate Foster in great part on claims that could easily be disproved.
Many of the charges against Edwards were made by an organized group of Foster supporters and printed in two August installments in The Boston Globe. Under headlines ``A penchant for fanciful invention'' and ``More doubts surface about abuse allegations,'' the Globe reported accusations that Edwards was never in Foster's room at the rectory of Sacred Heart Parish in Newton - the location where Edwards alleged he was molested by Foster.
In an article that used the phrase ``inquiries this week by the Globe appear to support their skepticism,'' the Globe also credited charges that Edwards ``pretended to be deaf'' in high school, never served as a police officer on Martha's Vineyard, and even cast doubt on the validity of the spinal injury that requires Edwards to use a wheelchair with the phrase ``a self-described paraplegic.''
But two Martha's Vineyard police chiefs confirmed he did serve under them, the Newton North High School deaf education director said Edwards took sign language and would sign to his deaf friends, and medical records in the file support his paralysis.
Foster's file also included the priest's admission that Edwards was in his rectory room in the mid-1980s in violation of church policies. Yet Foster never spoke up when his supporters claimed publicly that Edwards could never have been in the private room. Instead, Foster explained the youth's presence in his upstairs bedroom by saying, ``It was an `open rectory' in that sense and adults and kids moved in and out freely.''
But that statement is directly contradicted by a letter by another Sacred Heart priest, the Rev. John Paul Long, who said ``very strict'' rules prohibited such behavior. ``Only clergy were allowed upstairs to visit with their brother priests. All other guests were visited with in the parlor or outside walking with one of us,'' he wrote.
Yesterday, for the first time since publishing its lengthy articles criticizing Edwards, the Globe acknowledged problems with some details the paper printed about Edwards. The newspaper also reported the existence of the second Cummings suit.
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