DA: Abuse Figures Don't Add up

By Gregg M. Miliote
The Herald News [Fall River MA]
March 9, 2004

FALL RIVER -- The battle that heated up 18 months ago between the Bristol County District Attorney?s Office and the Diocese of Fall River over the release of the names of priests alleged to have sexually molested area youngsters is entering a second round after a recent church report contradicted information previously supplied to District Attorney Paul Walsh.

Late last month, the diocesereleased its "A Time to Heal" report documenting 216 allegations of sexual abuse of juveniles by 32 priests in the diocese during the past 50 years.

In September 2002, however,former Fall River Bishop Sean P. O?Malley -- currently Boston?sarchbishop -- revealed to Walsh the names of only 23 priests accused of sexual misconduct.

In an exclusive interview at The Herald News Monday, Walsh expressed his anger and frustration with the discrepancy between the two figures.

"I believe in giving people a chance to reasonably explain an unreasonable issue," Walsh said. "But my track record with the diocese is horrible and I seriously doubt there is any reasonable explanation for this."

After reading media accounts of the diocese?s report on sexual misconduct in the church, Walsh immediately drafted a letter to Bishop George W. Coleman asking for an explanation.

"In a recent news story, the Diocese of Fall River noted that the claims against clergy had been dealt with in an up front and professional manner. It went on to note that of the 32 clergy against whom claims had been made, most were against (former priest) James Porter," Walsh wrote in his letter to Bishop Coleman. "This perplexes me. In our request for any and all information concerning clergy abuse, we hoped that we would receive everything. Indeed, assurances were made by Bishop Sean P. O?Malley and yourself in news reports that you had fully complied with our requests.

"We were given a list of 23 names of clergy who were involved in sexual misconduct, not 32. Please have your attorney contact me about this discrepancy as soon as possible," Walsh concluded.

Walsh said there is a "nice way and a hard way" to get an explanation on this discrepancy. He said the nice way was to send the letter and wait for a response, but the hard way could include a renewed warning that Coleman, O?Malley and other past and present diocesan officials "may be summonsed to a grand jury to tell us what?s going on here."

The Herald News has obtained a brief response letter sent by Coleman to Walsh late last week.

In the letter, Coleman acknowledges receipt of Walsh?s letter but gives no reasons the diocese did not release all the names to the district attorney in 2002, even though O?Malley and others claimed at the time that the list was complete.

"I have asked Attorney Frederic J. Torphy, the Diocesan Attorney, to contact you and arrange a meeting as soon as possible to discuss these cases. I am confident that Mr. Torphy?s discussion with you will clarify and answer all questions you may have," Coleman wrote to Walsh. "I want to reiterate my willingness to cooperate with your office in investigating any accusations of an abuse of a minor."

Diocesan Spokesman John Kearns confirmed that a letter was sent to Walsh last week and that another, with an apparent explanation of the contradiction, is on the way to Walsh?s office.

"The diocese is in the process of responding to the district attorney to clarify the matter," Kearns said Monday. "Mr. Walsh should receive the information in a couple of days."

When asked what was contained in the new letter or what the reason for the change in the numbers of priests accused of sexual misconduct, Kearns said he could not offer any more comment.

In a controversial move in September 2002, Walsh released the names of the 23 priests on the diocesan list to the media, while also announcing the indictment of one on the list, the Rev. Donald Bowen.

Walsh, at the time, said although his office requested the names numerous times, it wasn?t until he threatened O?Malley with a grand jury subpoena that he received the list of names.

When Walsh released the list he said the diocese was morally and ethically wrong when it chose to "sit on" the names of the priests until it was too late to have many of them prosecuted.

"If we got the names 10 years ago, maybe we would have been able to prosecute some more of them," Walsh said of the diocese?s delays during a September 2002 interview. "But now we?ll never know if we could have indicted others. The most frustrating thing about it is that some may have gotten away with rape."

Gregg M. Miliote may be reached at


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