Clergy Answer Charges
Hingham Priest Pleads Innocent to Boy's Rape
By Victoria Benning
June 26, 1992
A Hingham priest has been indicted on charges that he repeatedly raped an altar boy while he was pastor of a North Plymouth church more than 10 years ago.
Rev. John R. Hanlon, 63, pastor of St. Paul's Catholic Church, pleaded innocent yesterday in Plymouth Superior Court to two counts of rape of a child by force and three counts of assault with intent to commit rape of a child. He remains free without bail on a promise to appear July 24 for a pretrial conference.
"People are just devastated," said Rev. William Kelly, a priest at St. Paul's. "He's a very wonderful priest who always has the concerns of his parishioners foremost in mind."
Father Hanlon began a voluntary administrative leave from his pastoral duties yesterday and could not be reached for comment.
"He is, of course, shocked, but he has confidence in the system and he believes he will be found innocent of these charges," said Paul V. Buckley of Milton, Father Hanlon's lawyer.
The alleged victim, who has not been identified, is a 25-year-old man who says the assaults occurred between 1980 and 1982 while he was an altar boy at St. Mary's Church in North Plymouth, where Father Hanlon served as parish priest. Church officials at St. Mary's declined to comment about the allegations.
Prosecutor Geline W. Williams of the Plymouth district attorney's office said the man contacted Plymouth police with his allegations late last year. Police contacted the district attorney's office and an investigation was conducted by that office and the State Police.
The indictments were handed up on Monday, Williams said. She declined to discuss specifics of the case or allegations.
The statute of limitations for the rape of a child does not expire until 10 years after the child turns 16, Williams said. News of the indictments sent shockwaves through Hingham, where Father Hanlon was described as thoughtful and caring and credited with bringing innovative programs to the parish. As word of the charges spread, parishioners filed into St. Paul's to pray.
"People are very shocked; there have been a lot of tears," Father Kelly said. "Those of us who know him for the priest he is find the charges hard to believe and we pray that justice will be served and he will be found innocent."
Some residents were disbelieving, some blamed the media, but most declined comment.
Theresa Welsh, a waitress at the Colonial Bar and Grill, across the street from St. Paul's, said Father Hanlon came in every Sunday after Mass.
"I wait on him every Sunday after Mass; he comes in with the altar boys," Welsh said. "He didn't do it. He's the greatest guy in the world, a father figure. I love him."
"The guy married my daughter," William Garrity said. "This is the news media trying to beat up on priests."
Father Kelly said Father Hanlon met with the church staff about two weeks ago to inform them of the grand jury investigation. Since then, the staff has met twice to discuss the issue and pray, he said.
Father Kelly said Father Hanlon came to the parish in 1985 from St. Mary's. Both he and John Walsh, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, said the transfer was not related to any allegations of misconduct.
Father Kelly said the alleged victim's decision to come forward may be a result of the recent barrage of media attention to cases concerning allegations of priests sexually abusing children.
The case receiving the most notoriety of late is that of former Massachusetts priest James R. Porter. Porter, 58, a married father of four living in Minnesota, has been accused of rape or sexual abuse by 48 New England men and women. Porter's alleged victims said they were molested as children in the 1960s, when Porter served parishes in North Attleborough, New Bedford and Fall River.
But Williams said the investigation of Father Hanlon was "well under way before the Father Porter allegations came to light."
Cardinal Bernard Law of the Archdiocese of Boston released a statement yesterday saying that while Father Hanlon has been granted an administrative leave, "there is nothing in his record of priestly service which would lend credence to the charges."
Cardinal Law said neither the alleged victim nor his family had approached the archdiocese previously with the allegations.
"My prayers are with him, with the individual bringing the charges, with those family members most closely affected by these indictments, and with the parishioners served by this priest, " the cardinal said.
Cardinal Law also released information regarding the church's policy in handling such accusations.
In light of the allegations made during the last several weeks, the archdiocese has been reviewing its files on all parish priests to see if there are any situations that warrant further review.
The statement also said that any individual with allegations of sexual abuse by a priest or other church personnel should contact either a priest in whom the individual has confidence or Rev. John McCormack, cabinet secretary for ministerial personnel in the Chancery at 254-0100, extension 488.
Cardinal Law said any allegations "would be seriously reviewed" and that both pastoral and professional psychological help would be offered to both the victim and his or her family.
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