The Abuse Files

Lawsuits unearth secret church papers, shedding new light on allegations of priest sex abuse going back decades

December 2, 2007

Before the installation of Thomas Tobin as bishop of Providence in 2005, Jim Sullivan, of Duxbury, Mass., raises a sign calling attention to the church abuse scandal. Bishop Tobin later declined to settle three pending lawsuits alleging abuse by Catholic priests in Rhode Island. The Providence Journal / Gretchen Ertl


"I emphasized that if there were misconduct which in other circumstances ought to be reported to governmental authorities, his volunteering that information to the Most Reverend Bishop, in the internal forum, would provide some significant measure of protection. I told him pointedly that if there were such details, I did not want to know them."



In 1979, the Woonsocket police began investigating an allegation that the Rev. Roland Lepire of St. Aloysius Church had put his hands down a boy's pants. Shortly after, the Roman Catholic auxiliary bishop of Providence wrote to another clergyman regarding the priest.

"For confidential reasons, Fr Roland M. Lepire now at St. Aloysius, Woon must be transferred at once," wrote Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth A. Angell, on stationery bearing the diocesan seal and motto, Serve The Lord With Gladness. "He should not be reassigned in the Woonsocket area."


Read a 1993 note then-Bishop Louis Gelineau put in the personnel file of the Rev. Daniel M. Azzarone Jr.

Read lawyer William Murphy’s summary of a conversation with Father Azzarone

Read a 1979 note from auxiliary bishop Kenneth Angell ordering the immediate transfer of the Rev. Roland M. Lepire

Angell's scrawled note eventually joined tens of thousands of pages of secret church documents never intended to see the light of day. But today, those secrets are being unearthed by lawsuits probing what church leaders knew and did over the past three decades about allegations of sexual abuse.

In 2002, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence seemingly put the issue to rest when it settled three dozen sexual-abuse cases for $14 million, ending a decade of bitter litigation.

But today, the church and three other plaintiffs are locked in another contentious legal battle over cases that didn't settle, involving allegations against three former priests and diocesan officials who allegedly concealed the priests' sexual assaults on minors and left them in a position to molest more boys.

The church fought to shield its files on 83 priests who have been accused over the years, but earlier this year, the Rhode Island Supreme Court ruled against the diocese. Last spring, the plaintiffs' lawyers got their first glimpse of the files, though under a court seal. In recent weeks, some of those documents have entered the public domain as exhibits or in motions in the current cases.

What they have found, the lawyers say, is the best evidence yet of a litany of sexual abuse — and a conspiracy to hide it.

In one document summarizing a church lawyer's conversation with an accused priest, the lawyer, William Murphy, wrote that he told the priest not to say anything about "misconduct" that Murphy would be obliged to report to the authorities. Instead, Murphy wrote, the priest should tell then-Bishop Louis E. Gelineau, in a private conversation analogous to confession, because "that would provide some significant measure of protection."

"I told [the priest] pointedly that if there were such details, I did not want to know them," Murphy wrote.

Church officials say that Murphy's motives are being misconstrued, and that he was making an earnest effort to get at the truth. The priest had already denied wrongdoing to Murphy, says another lawyer for the diocese, so Murphy's only recourse was to convince the priest to tell the bishop in a protected conversation. That way, the bishop could get at the truth and take the appropriate action.

The Most Rev. Thomas J. Tobin, who became the bishop in Providence in 2005, long after the events covered in the lawsuits, has also been drawn into the fray.

As the man in charge of the diocese, Tobin made the decision not to settle the pending cases, which the two sides had tried to resolve through mediation. Tobin told The Journal in an interview last week that the plaintiffs sought an unreasonable amount of money, and that it wouldn't have been fair to the church, given its other obligations.

The bishop also took a swipe at a "cottage industry" of lawyers around the country who seek financial settlements from the church that have little to do with protecting children today or providing justice to victims abused in the past.

In a sign of the heightened tensions in the case, a lawyer for the plaintiffs filed a court motion two weeks ago in which he accused church leaders, including Tobin, and their lawyers of "a recurring pattern of deception."

"Defendants have covered up the illegal conduct of their employees and confederates and intentionally made false sworn statements to this court, and the Rhode Island Supreme Court, in order to withhold pertinent facts and documents," wrote the lawyer, Carl P. DeLuca.

The diocese, in an objection filed last week, countered that DeLuca cited church documents in a "misleading and unfairly selective" way — and that its lawyers are preparing a detailed response to the specific allegations.

"I'm very comfortable we have been and will be forthcoming," said Tobin, in the interview. "We have nothing to gain in being less than honest and forthcoming in these matters, especially since we know this is subject to court review."


THROUGHOUT THE 1990s, the Rhode Island courts held that the church did not have to open its files on accused priests.

Then, in 2002, Superior Court Judge Robert D. Krause ordered the diocese, for the first time, to open those files. That led to the historic settlement of three dozen lawsuits a few months later, a decision made by then-Bishop Robert E. Mulvee.

While most of the victims rejoiced, some noted that the settlement would spare the diocese having to open its files.

"I think they should come out," said one victim's mother at the time. "It's the only way the public is going to know."

Marc G. Banville, right, and Donald Leighton, at about 13, when they allege they were sexually abused. Banville, 40, charges he was molested by the Rev. Roland Lepire at St. Matthew Parish in Central Falls. Leighton, 41, alleges he was molested by the Rev. Daniel Azzarone Jr. when Azzarone was at St. Clement Church in Warwick and St. Paul Church in Cranston. Photograph [of Banville] courtesy of Timothy J. Conlon.

The diocese also created an arbitration process to compensate other victims, hoping to clean up any lingering cases and put an end to years of litigation.

But three cases, involving three former priests, could not be resolved. In 2003, two men, Christopher Young and Marc G. Banville, took the diocese to court, charging that they had been molested as boys. In 2005, the mother and guardian of a third alleged victim, Donald Leighton, who is in a mental institution, also sued.

Young, 28, of Woonsocket, alleged that he was molested by the Rev. John Petrocelli, of Holy Family Church in Woonsocket, starting when he was in elementary school and flunked his test to become an altar boy in the mid 1980s.

Banville, 40, who now lives in Florida, charges that he was molested by Father Roland Lepire at St. Matthew Parish in Central Falls in the early 1980s. Lepire was one of the priests accused by another victim in one of the cases the church settled in 2002.

Leighton, 41, alleges that he was molested by the Rev. Daniel M. Azzarone Jr. in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when he was around 13, when Azzarone worked at St. Clement Church in Warwick and St. Paul Church in Cranston. Azzarone went to prison in 2005 for raping two altar boys at St. Mary Church in Cranston in the early 2000s.

Superior Court Judge Nettie Vogel, who was assigned the three cases, ordered the church to turn over records reflecting its knowledge of allegations against the priests. She also ordered the diocese to produce information regarding every accusation against any cleric dating back to 1971, and who connected to the diocese was told of each allegation.

The judge ruled that the church would have to produce information on 83 clerics who had been accused of first- or second-degree child molestation or third-degree sexual assault, as defined under Rhode Island law.

Lawyers for the diocese said that the files were protected under the Roman Catholic Church's canon law, and that it would violate the church's First Amendment rights to freedom of religion to open them. The church also argued that accusations against priests not named in the lawsuits were irrelevant, since they didn't involve Young, Banville or Leighton.

"Plaintiffs may not use an alleged cover-up on an unrelated occasion or number of occasions [involving other priests] to prove that the defendants had the propensity to cover-up and therefore must have covered up in [these] cases," the church argued in a court filing. The plaintiffs were seeking nothing more than "a fishing expedition through 35 years of records for evidence of unrelated earlier or later bad acts." Bishop Tobin "should not have to finance" this expedition, which, given the voluminous files, could cost the church $30,000 to $60,000 to copy, diocese lawyers argued.

DeLuca and Timothy J. Conlon, the plaintiffs' other lawyer, countered that they were entitled to see the files in seeking evidence to prove a pattern of negligence and misconduct by church leaders.

"There may also be evidence of attempts to protect the priest from detection and prosecution," the lawyers wrote in a court filing. "If there is enough of this evidence in enough files, the evidence together may demonstrate a criminal intent on the part of the defendants to aid and abet priests … or to prove that the defendants actually engaged in a criminal enterprise…. Defendants were handling so many of these cases, so often, that they could not be naïve to the facts of a particular priest's case."

The files "will tell us who disciplined these priests and how. That will tell us who had control over these priests…. It might tell us of options that they had, but did not utilize, until after litigation began and there was public scrutiny of their conduct."

At a November 2006 hearing, Judge Vogel ordered the church to open the files.

Vogel said that she was mindful of the church's internal procedures, but "to suggest that the Code of Canon Law trumps the laws of the State of Rhode Island … would be a misstatement of my belief and understanding of the law." The information in the files, she said, "is calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and goes to the heart of the case."

The church appealed to the Rhode Island Supreme Court, which denied its appeal in February of this year.

In the spring, DeLuca and Conlon finally gained access to the church's archive on accused priests. Some of the records are kept at the chancery, the diocese's main offices in Providence. The rest sit in the church's office of education and compliance in Cranston, which shares a building with diocesan cemetery administrators near St. Mary Church — where two of the accused priests in the current lawsuits, Lepire and Azzarone, were stationed at different times.

"I didn't think I could be surprised," said DeLuca, who has been handling cases against the church since the early 1990s. "But I am in fact surprised that there was as much of this going on — there were active attempts to cover this stuff up. And clearly they were not concerned with the consequences of the abuse of children. They were concerned with the abuse of children becoming public."


THE JUDGE'S order forcing Bishop Tobin to open the files specified that the documents remain sealed from public view, to protect people's privacy, and be used only for the pending lawsuits. Several documents have emerged in recent weeks as part of public court filings.

DeLuca estimates that he has electronically scanned more than half of an estimated 80,000 to 100,000 pages of diocesan documents, not all of which he's had a chance to read.

"I'd spend hours reading through hundreds of pages, and rereading documents, because I didn't realize their significance at first until I came across another document several hundred pages later," said DeLuca, in an interview last week.

One day, DeLuca found a psychiatrist's report on Father Lepire, commissioned by the diocese in 1996, that shed light on complaints against the priest in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

DeLuca also found internal church memos, to and from then-Bishop Gelineau and others in the church hierarchy, detailing Lepire's problems during that time. The priest was subsequently transferred, twice, and wound up at St. Matthew in Central Falls, where, one of the pending lawsuits alleges, he molested Marc Banville.

Louis E. Gelineau was bishop of the Diocese of Providence during much of the time period being explored in the three lawsuits now before the courts. His response to allegations of priest sex abuse is part of the court record. The Providence Journal / Connie Grosch

In 1996, another man who says he was molested as a boy by Lepire sued the church, in one of the cases that the diocese settled in 2002. Lepire was stripped of his priesthood by the Vatican in 2004, after another man came forward in 2002 and said he, too, had been sexually assaulted by Lepire as a youth around 1980.

Lepire couldn't be reached for comment. James Murphy, a lawyer for the church, said that when he contacted the former priest last year to inform him of the lawsuit, Lepire denied the allegations.

Lepire was a few years out of the seminary and the assistant pastor at St. Aloysius in Woonsocket in 1979 when a mother reported in an affidavit that her son was groped by the priest.

According to the affidavit, the mother said that her son came home from the St. Aloysius rectory one day, vowing never to return because Father Roland had "put his hands down my pants."

The boy told his mother that what had begun as tickling quickly progressed to fondling. The mother said that she brought her son to the Woonsocket police station, where the boy was questioned; the police said that they believed him and that they would be in touch.

A few days later, the mother said in her affidavit, a Woonsocket police detective came to her house.

"He said the bishop [at that time Bishop Gelineau] would like my permission to handle this situation," said the mother in her affidavit. "He had a piece of paper that said what he was proposing. He sat at the table and read from it to me. According to the paper, what he [the bishop] was proposing was that he would remove Father Roland from the parish and he would be given necessary counseling. The document gave the bishop my permission to handle the situation. It said that I would not press charges, and I would not take any legal action."

Not wanting to put her son through a trial, the mother said, she signed the paper. Father Roland was gone within a few weeks.

On Feb. 6, 1979, Auxiliary Bishop Kenneth Angell sent a handwritten note to the Rev. Salvatore Matano, then-director of the diocese's priest personnel office, saying that "for confidential reasons," Lepire "must be transferred at once."

"He should not be reassigned in the Woonsocket area," Angell wrote. "Take this up with the PPB [Priest Personnel Board] on Thurs and arrange for a new assignment within a week (if possible). I will talk to the prospective pastor before the assignment is finalized."

Three weeks later, Lepire was assigned to St. Mary in Cranston. But that also didn't work out, as Bishop Gelineau noted in a confidential memo to Angell the following year.

"Upon professional advice, I have directed Father Roland Lepire to move away from St. Mary Parish in Cranston," Gelineau wrote in a confidential memo on May 8, 1980. "It appears that any parish involvement and ministry for him places too much pressure and results in depression bordering on illness."

Lepire was given temporary leave to reside at the Brothers of Jesus Crucified in Providence in the summer of 1980, where he was listed as being on "sick leave," according to court records. Gelineau asked that a teaching position be found for Lepire at a Catholic high school, such as Bishop Keough or Bay View, noting that Lepire "likes to teach and this does not result in the kind of pressure that he feels at a parish level."

But no teaching position was found. In July, Father Matano, the diocese's personnel chief, wrote Gelineau that Lepire now "expressed a strong desire to return to parish ministry. Perhaps if the psychiatrist's report is positive, Father Lepire could be considered for a parish assignment."

In September 1980, Lepire was appointed assistant pastor at St. Matthew in Central Falls — where, Banville alleges, Lepire molested him.

In 1996, a man who had been a parishioner at St. Mary around 1980 sued the church, saying that Lepire had molested him repeatedly and that church leaders covered it up. (The church later settled that case in 2002.)

As a result of that lawsuit, the diocese in 1996 had Lepire evaluated by a psychiatrist. According to the psychiatrist's report, cited in court documents, Lepire acknowledged the Woonsocket episode and said that no charges were filed by the police "with the understanding" that he would receive therapy and be transferred.

"Father states that the Bishop [Gelineau] was understanding and transferred him," the report says, "… however, within eight months of being in the new assignment, Father Lepire reports that he touched four twelve year old boys, one time each, over the period of one month…. Father states he did not understand his own behavior; consequently he approached the Bishop and admitted his wrongdoing. He states that the Bishop removed him from the parish…."

Those confidential communications among the diocesan leaders and the psychiatrist's report contradict what Gelineau told the court last year. The retired bishop said in a written filing that he had only a "vague" recollection of some complaints by parents in Woonsocket about possibly "inappropriate" behavior by Lepire, but that they involved "horseplay or wrestling" — nothing of a "sexual nature."

Gelineau did say, in his court response, that he learned from the pastor at St. Aloysius that the Woonsocket police had contacted the pastor about "undefined concerns presented by some local parents about physical activity by Lepire that they felt was inappropriate." The pastor also told Gelineau that the police suggested Lepire be moved to another assignment.

As for Lepire's subsequent removal from St. Mary, Gelineau said, "It is not unusual for priests to need a change like this to renew themselves."

The records provided by the diocese in the pending lawsuits do not mention the agreement with the Woonsocket parent not to press charges, "or any document that directly acknowledges these events," according to a recent motion filed by plaintiffs.

"If not for the fact that Lepire divulged this information during an evaluation of himself conducted in 1996, the record would only show that there was some psychological problem that was an ongoing issue for Lepire," the motion says.

Gelineau also said in his court filing that he became aware after the lawsuit of the affidavit from the Woonsocket woman claiming that her son had been molested at St. Aloysius — around the same time that another parishioner would later allege that he, too, was molested by Lepire. (That parishioner sued the church in 1999, and won a settlement in 2002.)

Gelineau declined comment for this story, on the advice of a church lawyer.

Angell, who moved on to become the bishop of the Diocese of Burlington, has no recollection of the 1979 transfer memo, his lawyer, William O'Brien, said last week. Nor does Matano, the current bishop of Burlington. In a telephone interview, Matano said he and the personnel board didn't question orders from the bishop.

"Confidential reasons could have been anything," he said. "I didn't know then and I don't know now" the reason for Lepire's transfer.


PLAINTIFFS' LAWYERS also discovered in the diocese's archives notes from a longtime church lawyer, William Murphy — notes that DeLuca contends help prove a cover-up.

According to court records, Murphy was investigating allegations in 1993 by a woman, Jeannette Costa, that Father Daniel Azzarone had molested her son Daniel in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the priest was assigned to St. Clement Church in Warwick and St. Paul Church in Cranston; the boy was a student at Bishop Hendricken High School. Daniel Costa had recently died of AIDS when his mother contacted Bishop Gelineau.

The Rev. Daniel M. Azzarone Jr. is arraigned in Superior Court on child sexual assault charges in April 2002. Journal Photo / John Freidah

On April 20, 1993, church records show, Murphy met with Azzarone, then the assistant pastor at St. Mary in Cranston, to obtain "more details of his relationship with Daniel Costa and possibly other people."

At first, Azzarone insisted that his only encounters with Costa involved lunches and/or dinner, but he was vague about the details. Murphy then told him that the diocese had reliable evidence that Azzarone had taken the youth to Boston in 1979 to see Pope John Paul II.

Azzarone "expressed bewilderment that he had not remembered the event," wrote Murphy. "He then explained that Mr. Costa had wanted to see the Pope and that he had dressed Mr. Costa in 'an altar boy's cassock.' "

"At that point, I told him that I, and others, found his inability to recall such a singular event as incredible," continued Murphy. "I then admonished him to disclose whatever details he might recall to the Most Reverend Bishop. I emphasized that if there were misconduct which in other circumstances ought to be reported to governmental authorities, his volunteering that information to the Most Reverend Bishop, in the internal forum, would provide some significant measure of protection. I told him pointedly that if there were such details, I did not want to know them. I was rather forceful in my comments."

The internal forum is a confidential form of communication that includes confession, says Bishop Tobin.

Church lawyer James Murphy, who is not related to William Murphy, said that William Murphy could not comment, because of the pending lawsuits. But he said on William Murphy's behalf that the lawyer advised Azzarone to talk to the bishop because it was clear that the priest was not going to say anything to Murphy.

"The bishop was the only person [Azzarone] could come clean with if he believed that he could speak to him in pure confidence, with no repercussions, except for whatever action the bishop would take," said James Murphy.

Asked by The Journal for his view of Murphy's actions, Bishop Tobin said that he was not familiar with the document, but that it sounded like the lawyer could have been telling Azzarone, "You need to come clean to the bishop so he can know what to do with you."

With the benefit of hindsight, Bishop Tobin added, "things would be handled differently today…. If a priest comes to me today and says, 'Bishop, I want to tell you something confidentially,' and what he tells me is about sexual abuse, he knows that cannot remain confidential."

DeLuca takes a different view, alleging in a recent court motion that Murphy "conspired" with church leaders "to conceal the conduct of Azzarone [and to] receive incriminating evidence from a non-client, Azzarone, in an indirect manner that would preclude his disclosure of the information…."

DeLuca also points to another document unearthed from the church's archives, a letter that Murphy wrote to a psychologist to arrange for an evaluation of Azzarone.

Wrote Murphy: "All reports are to be sent directly to the Most Reverend Bishop…. In specific terms, I do not want the reports."


COURT RECORDS show that the psychologist evaluated Azzarone early in 1993.

The results of the exam "warranted the administration of a polygraph test" and a test that measures sexual arousal, according to court papers filed by the plaintiffs in the current suits. If the priest did not pass, the psychologist recommended further "exploration and explanation."

During the evaluation, the psychologist also noted that Azzarone spoke of a situation in 1985 in which a married couple the priest was counseling accused him of molesting their fourth-grade son and teaching him how to masturbate.

The church's files indicate that Azzarone never took the sexual-arousal test. He took the polygraph test on July 14, 1993. His denials that he had molested Costa were "deceptive," according to court papers.

Azzarone objected to the polygraph results, and requested a meeting with Bishop Gelineau, which took place on Aug. 24, 1993.

According to a memo that Gelineau wrote for Azzarone's file that day, the priest disputed the results of the polygraph test, and denied any sexual misconduct with Daniel Costa, including on the train to Boston to see the pope.

Speaking of his days in seminary in Washington during the 1970s, Azzarone told Gelineau "there were problems in Washington. At the time there was much misconduct among the seminarians there. He was naïve and went along with the crowd."

"Father Azzarone assured me again there has been no misconduct in many years," Gelineau wrote. "He does not travel with boys or young men. He is very cautious about all his associations…. He has charge of the altar boys in the parish, but is never alone with any one of them."

Gelineau wrote that he told Azzarone that "this whole matter placed us in a very difficult situation."

If the priest was to continue at St. Mary, Gelineau wrote, summarizing his conversation with Azzarone, he would have to be closely monitored by his superiors, place greater emphasis on his spiritual life and "give up any responsibilities with youth."

According to a recent deposition by Jeannette Costa, William Murphy told her in 1993 that Azzarone had been interviewed by the bishop "under the umbrella of confession."

Costa also testified that Murphy told her, "Father Azzarone was told to avoid the occasion of sin, and that the pastor in his parish then was alerted, and he was supposed to watch Father Azzarone."

But that supervision never occurred, according to notes in Azzarone's file, cited in the plaintiffs' court filings.

Furthermore, in 1995, the authorities questioned Azzarone's "extravagant lifestyle," including gambling forays to Foxwoods, Atlantic City and Las Vegas, during an investigation into the larceny of six chalices from St. Mary.

Robert N. McCarthy, a retired Massachusetts State Police detective who had been hired by the diocese to investigate priest allegations, wrote Bishop Gelineau that the Cranston police wanted to question Azzarone about the missing chalices and his lifestyle.

"If no other crimes are discovered except those that might be related to the church, they have agreed not to prosecute or go public if we agreed to handle the matter internally ourselves," McCarthy wrote. "I assured [the Cranston police] that Your Excellency would do just that."

Azzarone was never charged.

In 1999, the mother of another purported victim of Azzarone's, Donald Leighton, approached the church. Back in 1985, the church's files show, the diocese had received an allegation from state child-welfare officials that Azzarone had molested Leighton. Azzarone denied it, and the allegation could not be substantiated.

Besides Leighton, Azzarone "was rumored to have been involved with several children," a child-welfare official told the church in 1985, according to a note by a monsignor who took the call.

The diocesan official went on to write that the state "did not want to press charges in this matter either if the diocese takes steps to make this priest … mend his ways. I have promised cooperation by the bishop — without accepting as fact the accusation of the young man."

Elizabeth Leighton, whose son is in a mental institution and is one of the plaintiffs in the pending cases, asked the church in 1999 to keep Azzarone away from other children.

McCarthy, who court records show had reviewed Azzarone's file, including the 1993 allegations and his problematic polygraph test, told Elizabeth Leighton that the church required accused priests to take a polygraph test.

"You don't pass the polygraph or you don't take it, you're not working here," said McCarthy, according to court records.

Early in 2002, Azzarone was indicted on charges of raping two St. Mary altar boys on multiple occasions in 2000 and 2001, one after a church-sponsored Caribbean trip that the priest had helped chaperone.

One of the clergy who was supposed to have monitored Azzarone more closely, St. Mary pastor the Rev. Alfred C. Lonardo, posted Azzarone's bail.

In 2005, the year that Donald Leighton and his mother sued the church, Azzarone pleaded no contest to raping the two altar boys and was sentenced to three years in state prison, where he currently resides. The church has since stripped him of his priesthood.


CARL DeLUCA, the plaintiffs' lawyer, says that he never imagined he'd be back in court, battling the Providence diocese.

Following the 2002 settlements, he noted, the church opened its doors and volunteered to arbitrate or mediate cases with more than 50 other victims, who would not have been able to sue because the statute of limitations had expired on their claims.

"It was something for the good," said DeLuca.

But in 2005, after Bishop Tobin succeeded Mulvee, DeLuca says things changed. The church stopped arbitrating or mediating cases, at least with about seven of his clients, and also refused to settle with Banville, Young and Leighton.

Toward the end of the failed mediation process, DeLuca says that the church's lawyers tried to discourage their expectations, saying that the new bishop "had a reputation of not paying these types of claims."

James Murphy, a lawyer for the church, says that the arbitration and mediation process was never meant to be open-ended — it was designed to "clear the decks" of other victims who were out there. The church has paid out more than $2 million since 2002, and is still open to resolving "extraordinary" cases. But after five years, he wrote DeLuca last July, Bishop Tobin and his advisory committee on sexual abuse concluded that the program had "run its course."

Bishop Tobin said in the interview last week that the church remains concerned about helping "people who have clear and substantiated allegations of sexual abuse."

"We have been very generous and will continue to be generous in offering spiritual support and pastoral support and compensation to the extent that we can," said Tobin, including payment of therapy bills.

James Murphy said that it would have been a huge drain on the diocese's finances to keep the mediation and arbitration program going, siphoning away money to help the poor and finance parochial schools. And he questioned how much more the church can do for victims.

"The money may or may not help a person's soul," said Murphy. "One could argue that no amount of money can compensate them for what's been stolen."

Neither side would say how much the church offered to pay the three plaintiffs now in court, although Bishop Tobin says it was in excess of the $50,000 ceiling that had been set in arbitration.

"We probably could have avoided this whole process of litigation if we agreed to very large settlements with the plaintiffs involved," the bishop said. But "after a certain point of common sense, you say it's unreasonable, it's unfair.… After a certain point we have to say enough is enough for the sense of justice and fairness for everybody."

DeLuca says that the diocese's offer was not generous, but "insulting and petty."

The church has spent "much more" in legal fees to fight these cases than what it offered his clients, maintains DeLuca. And it has exposed itself to the risk of huge judgments and bringing an issue that it had put to rest five years ago back into the public eye.

Bishop Tobin acknowledged concerns.

"Sure, there's concern about headlines. There's concern about people not understanding the complexity of these issues," he said. But he also believes that the church, like society overall, has come a long way in dealing with sexual abuse. And he points to some cases around the country where plaintiffs lawyers have reaped huge fees pressing suits that have "very little to do now with either protection of children or providing justice for those who were harmed in the past."

Timothy Conlon, who represents the plaintiffs with DeLuca, takes exception to the bishop's remarks. He issued a statement Friday, saying that "you can shoot the messenger, but it makes more sense to ask how there could be so many victims of clergy abuse…. I would be pleased to practice law without ever encountering another victim of clergy abuse."

DeLuca says that he doesn't know how much of what lies in the church's files on accused priests will ever see the light of day.

"Do I still think they're trying to protect pedophile priests? I have no evidence of that," said DeLuca. "What I do have evidence of is that they're still trying to protect themselves."

On Friday, the two sides were back in court, on DeLuca's motion to compel the diocese to produce more files that it has claimed are privileged. Part of DeLuca's argument: that Bishop Tobin and his lawyers have committed a fraud upon the court by failing to turn over everything that the judge had ordered them to. In one instance, DeLuca's motion contends, Bishop Tobin "falsely omitted" details about older allegations against priests, then argued to the Rhode Island Supreme Court that the information didn't exist, therefore the church shouldn't have to open its files.

Bishop Tobin said that the diocese wouldn't deliberately file anything misleading or untrue. While the bishop signs the court pleadings, and meets with lawyers and church officials to discuss them, he said that he is not "intimately" familiar with the contents of the files.

The acrimony between the lawyers was evident last week. Responding to DeLuca's motion revealing some of the contents of the priest files, James Murphy objected that it was the plaintiffs, not the diocese, who were being misleading, and quoted Mark Twain: "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes."

At a hearing last year, Murphy noted to Judge Vogel that he and DeLuca have "a long history."

"Maybe it's time that these cases get put behind the litigants," the judge responded, "and members of the public who would like also to see these matters closed down so people can move on to a new era."

_________________________________ / (401) 277-7724 / (401) 277-7359

[Note from The text of this posting and the photograph of Donald Leighton are taken from Other photographs were scanned from the paper edition. This web layout was designed to convey the layout of the front page Sunday print edition.]


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