The Abuse Files
Lawsuits unearth secret church papers, shedding
new light on allegations of priest sex abuse going back decades
By MIKE STANTON and TOM MOONEY • THE PROVIDENCE JOURNAL
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
"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
WILLIAM MURPHY, LAWYER FOR THE DIOCESE OF PROVIDENCE
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
"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
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
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
"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
"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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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
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."
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[Note from BishopAccountability.org: The text of this posting and the
photograph of Donald Leighton are taken from http://www.projo.com/news/content/Church_Archives_12-02-07_OC83129_v64.27ecc7e.html.
Other photographs were scanned from the paper edition. This web layout
was designed to convey the layout of the front page Sunday print edition.]