Church to Defrock Clergymen: Archdiocese Targets Accused Priests

By Robin Washington
Boston Herald
January 5, 2004

The Archdiocese of Boston has begun the defrocking process against at least two priests in the sexual molestation scandal and is likely to pursue removing dozens of clergymen from the priesthood before the church's abuse policy is reviewed at the end of the year, the Herald has learned.

Archdiocese spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne confirmed yesterday that church officials recently asked some accused clergy to voluntarily leave the priesthood.

"That would be the first way to go," he said of the voluntary removals, adding, "I haven't heard anything about any number."

Yet multiple sources told the Herald two priests named in the recent $85 million settlement were directly approached by church leaders within the past month asking for their removal, and a third is facing trial by a church tribunal that could result in laicization.

"My understanding is they're going to approach every single one. It's starting within a couple of weeks," a source close to one of the accused priests said.

The Rev. Thomas Doyle, a canon lawyer and whistle-blowing priest who first called attention to the abuse problem in the 1980s, said a likely deadline for removing priests is December 2004, when an abuse policy approved by the Vatican a year ago for the church in the United States will be reviewed.

Until then, Doyle said, bishops have the power to petition Rome for almost immediate laicization of priests who agree to be removed.

"It would be finalized in weeks rather than months or years," he said, adding that many accused priests may go along with the request even if it isn't in their best interest.

"(The church is) banking on their naivete and the fact that they've been trained to be docile servants of the system and not to consider their own rights and the importance of due process," he said.

Once defrocked, a priest would be unlikely to receive retirement or health benefits and would be forced to move off church property and find other means to support himself, Doyle said - a prospect that even victims and their advocates find troubling.

"You cut these guys loose, where are they going to go?" plaintiffs lawyer Carmen Durso said, noting most accused priests have not been criminally convicted.

"While I don't like the church paying them, so long as they're under their jurisdiction we know where they are and what they're doing," he said.

Even without being defrocked, priests who have been removed from ministry due to abuse allegations have been foisted on an unsuspecting public, Durso said.

Among those are the Rev. Robert Kelley, who ran a Back Bay flower shop until his imprisonment last year, and the Rev. Robert Morrisette, now a concierge at the Boston Harbor Hotel. Defrocked priest Hugh Behan of Missouri was later employed as a greeter at Disney World.

"If they just laicize them, they can become school teachers, soccer coaches or Boy Scout leaders," Durso said. "They've got to find a medium security monastery and put them in a place where they can't offend."

Some Catholic orders have done exactly that, allowing accused priests to remain as clergy but keeping them under virtual house arrest.

Medford's Susan Gallagher, who settled a suit against the Salesians for abuse by the Rev. Frank Nugent, said she has come full circle from her earlier criticism of the order for keeping the 81-year-old cleric under constant supervision by two other priests.

"I have mixed feelings because they're not trained and not competent in dealing with child molesters, but now I see it's better than doing nothing," she said.

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