At Least 3 Accused Priests Stayed Active in Parishes
By Tom Mashberg and Jules Crittenden
February 9, 2002
At least three of the eight active priests suspended by the Archdiocese of Boston in the past seven days were supposed to have nothing to do with parish work under the terms of settlements in prior molestation cases, lawyers for the victims said yesterday.
The revelation comes as an embattled Bernard Cardinal Law flew home to Boston from the Vatican. Law arrived just as his beleaguered archdiocese was reeling anew after turning over yet more former priests' names - as many as 23, although some duplication is possible - to Massachusetts law enforcement officials amid allegations that the clerics abused boys.
"When the religious leaders in society say something, you expect them to stand by their word," said a dismayed attorney Robert A. Sherman of Greenberg Traurig, who handled abuse suits against two of the priests jettisoned on Thursday. The suspensions came exactly two weeks after Law had vowed that no known molester was involved in ministry work.
"A critical element of our settlements was the assurance from the archdiocese that these priests would no tonger have active roles in parishes," Sherman said. "This was very important to the victims, who wanted assurances no other children would be put at risk."
The two priests identified by Sherman are the Rev. Gerald J. Hickey, who was conducting two Masses a week at St. Helen Parish in Norwell, and the Rev. Richard A. Buntel, a business manager at St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Wilmington.
A third priest, identified by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who has been involved in upwards of 50 settlements with the archdiocese over pedophile priests going back three decades, is Daniel M. Graham, suspended last Saturday as pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Quincy.
According to Sherman and MacLeish, Hickey faced a single accusation, while Buntel and Graham each faced multiple allegations.
The fact that the archdiocese was continuing to employ priests who had been known parties to sex-abuse settlements is sure to further roil the scandal gripping Boston's Catholic hierarchy.
Arriving at Logan Airport after a a routine bishops' conference in Rome, Law looked tired and harried as he was met by a phalanx of reporters and TV news crews. He stopped briefly to address the media but refused to take questions.
Law said he was "saddened by the fact that some individuals needed to be removed." But he also said he was "happy," citing the church's desire to protect children.
Law did not say whether he discussed the archdiocese's crisis or his own future with Vatican officials during his week in Rome.
"I stayed in daily contact with my office," Law said. "I'm aware of the ongoing review of our records and am saddened by the fact there are some individuals that needed to be removed that had not been.
"Records spanning a period of 40 years are being combed and combed well," he said. "Our intent is the protection of children as we move forward. On one hand I'm saddened that names have emerged. On the other hand I am happy that they have emerged and we have been able to act on them."
Asked why Law had been so insistent in January that there were no priests active in the archdiocese previously identified as possible molesters, Donna Morrissey, Law's spokeswoman, said: "At the time the cardinal made that statement he believed it to be true."
Yesterday, the Suffolk and Essex district attorneys' offices received a total of 23 new names of accused priests, raising the total number of names sent to law enforcement in six counties in the past 10 days to 83. But officials cautioned they have not yet cross-checked names, and that some overlap is possible.
Given the scope of the scandal, and risks to public safety, the archdiocese's handling of its records in recent days has victims' lawyers expressing anger and displeasure.
"It seems inconceivable to me that it would take since 1993, given the importance of rooting out people who might be preying on children, for them to get to this point," MacLeish said. "Cardinal Law has to answer a basic question: How many other situations are there or have there been in which priests who faced substantive allegations of pedophile behavior were sent back into the active ministry?"
There are also clear indications that the crisis is having a seismic impact on priests' morale. In an interview yesterday, the Rev. Thomas H. Maguire, pastor of St. Helen's in Norwell, said he ached for Father Hickey, the priest removed from his parish, describing him as a man he had known for just a few months yet thought well of.
But Maguire said he ached as well for the boys who have been victimized by priests and for the brotherhood of clergy now being reviled for the sins of a minority.
"You begin to wonder what people really think of you when they see you walking down the street," the 26-year veteran of the collar said. "You come to a sad realization there are many, many people who will never see us or the church in the same light again."
One longtime area priest who spoke on condition of anonymity said Law has alienated not just critics, but clergy who might be theologically aligned with him in his handling of the entire scandal.
Another priest agreed that "morale is very low" among the clergy rank and file, and echoed others when he added: "In some cases the accusations are only one instance that happened 30 years ago. You think it couldn't get any worse and then it does. Priests are feeling just because we wear a collar we are guilty by association."
Another priest told of one instance upsetting to the rank-and-file involving a Fall River parish. Reportedly, he said, parents there would not allow their second-grade children to make their first confession alone with the priest.
"They wanted another adult in the confessional and that's really sad that people are that worried," he said. The priest also said fellow priests feel if they were promised confidentiality by the chancery, the chancery should not betray them - especially for matters that occurred 30 years ago.
"Say something happened with a young priest in 1962 but he has functioned well since then, and he has devoted his life to the church all these years - if you give his name to the newspapers on this, he is all done as far as the priesthood is concerned," the priest said.
"If the confidentiality of the priest has been breached, why aren't they also releasing the names of the accusers?" he added.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.