Letters Detail Alleged Sex Abuse in Diocese
By Katie Davis
November 19, 2013
[with copies of the letters]
[Part 1 - I-Team: Letters raise questions about alleged sex abuse in diocese]
In a recent investigation, the NBC 10 I-Team obtained through a records request 88 pages detailing sexual abuse by Rhode Island Roman Catholic priests, going back more than 30 years.
In each case, a letter detailing allegations of sexual abuse was sent to Rhode Island State Police by the Diocese of Providence.
The diocese began the practice around 2003, although there's no legal mandate requiring the letters.
A total of 45 letters were sent to state police between 2003 and 2013.
The documents which were stamped "confidential" were heavily redacted by state police.
The names of priests were blacked out, even those people who are already dead. Dates and locations were blacked out. The names of the churches were blacked out too.
But the details that remained were stories from victims who say there were sexually assaulted, raped and told to keep quiet.
Some where children forced to engage in oral sex and were told no one would believe them.
"I think that if there's ever been a child who's assaulted, then there's an obligation to let it be investigated fairly," said Deputy Attorney General Gerald Coyne.
Coyne said it shouldn't matter if decades have passed.
"I think so. If it hasn't even been investigated before, and the person who was the perpetrator is still out there. I think everybody benefits from an investigation," he said.
Coyne has worked on priest abuse in Rhode Island for more than a decade.
He said the diocese began sending letters to state police after Attorney General Sheldon Whitehouse, now one of Rhode Island's senators, expressed concerns back in 2000.
Whitehouse asked the diocese to report any allegations of sexual abuse to law enforcement. But as long as the statute of limitations had expired, it was a request, not a requirement.
"There's no legal requirement for sending letters. A lot of the letters and the complaints that come in tend to be historical. They tend to date back quite a ways," Coyne said.
The 45 letters the I-Team found in state police files involve allegations that are decades old.
A letter from 2005 was from a woman who reports that for years she was molested and raped by a priest visiting Rhode Island from overseas.
"(He) placed himself on top of (me)...opened up his pants and exposed himself. When he was done, he told me to go home...he further stated that nobody would believe me..."
A letter from 2006 was from a victim who reports she was abused at an unnamed Catholic school.
"(The priest) had Hustler magazine laid out, and would act out with the girls various poses depicted in the magazine. ...There were other classmates...who were also sexually assaulted..."
And a letter from 2011 was from a male victim who reported that "...assaults that took place in the gym showers, (the priest's) bedroom...and a multi-function building in the gym/stage area of the school."
Helen McGonigle grew up in East Greenwich where she says she was sexually abused over a four-year period in the 1960s at Our Lady of Mercy by a priest visiting Rhode Island from Ireland.
The priest was the Most Rev. Brendan Smyth, a notorious pedophile. Smyth was convicted on more than 140 counts of child molestation and died in prison in Ireland in 1997.
McGonigle said she reported her abuse to the church in 2006.
But when she read the letters uncovered by the I-Team, she found no record of her case being reported to state police.
"If they're doing it selectively, that's not right. That's absolutely not right. They have to do it in all cases, and not selectively," she said.
Bishop Thomas Tobin declined to sit down with the I-Team for an on-camera interview. But in a written statement, the diocese says all credible allegations of child sexual abuse are reported to law enforcement and that no priest credibly accused of sexual abuse is still working for the diocese in any capacity.
Coyne said Rhode Island needs a better way to track allegations even if decades have passed and the statute of limitations has expired.
"Whether it's the state police or some other place, there needs to be a central repository," he said.
In its statement, the diocese said it is very aggressive in responding to allegations of sexual abuse involving children, while respecting the rights of everyone involved.
None of the cases in the 45 letters was prosecuted because the priest had died, the statute of limitations had run out, or there wasn't enough evidence.