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  Disgraced; Church Suspends 6 More Alleged Molester Priests; Six Archdiocesan Priests Suspended

Boston Herald
February 8, 2002

In another stunning blow to the Archdiocese of Boston, six more active priests were suspended yesterday amid allegations of sexual misconduct with minors, bringing to eight the number of Catholic clerics jettisoned since Saturday.

Meanwhile, at least 20 names of current and former priests were delivered to Massachusetts district attorneys yesterday, according to law enforcement officials. Prior to that, the archdiocese had reported 40 names of clergy accused of past sex abuse to prosecutors or police.

The archdiocese is continuing to comb its archives for additional "substantial allegations of sexual abuse of a minor," church officials said, leaving open the likelihood its roster of former and current accused priests will continue to grow. As of yesterday, the names of at least 60 accused priests have been given to law enforcement in the past 10 days. There are 930 priests in the archdiocese.

"There is a subculture of sex abuse within the Archdiocese of Boston that has to be rooted out," said Mitchell Garabedian, lawyer for 84 plaintiffs in the John J. Geoghan molestation scandal, the case that unleashed the recent revelations. "I'm not at all surprised more individuals are being named."

Only one of the priests, Rev. James F. Power, 71, was performing full priestly functions, according to the archdiocese. He was a parochial vicar at St. James the Great Parish in Wellesley, and faces one allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, the archdiocese's personnel office said.

Outside St. James's yesterday evening, a parish official who declined to give his name said: "We are very sad. It's all just happened. He had always been good here. We really can't say anything else."

Three of the remaining five priests named yesterday - all six were listed in a statement issued by Rev. Charles J. Higgins, the archdiocesan secretary for ministerial personnel - were identified as staffing posts in some form.

Rev. Gerald J. Hickey, 64, was listed as "unassigned but assisting" at St. Helen Parish in Norwell. And Rev. Richard A. Buntel, 56, was listed as working in a "non-ministerial position as business manager" at St. Thomas of Villanova Parish in Wilmington. Both men are facing one allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor, according to the archdiocese's statement.

Cheryl D'Antonio of Abington, whose son, Joseph, was married by Hickey in 1995, said she found the abuse allegation hard to believe.

"There's got to be another side to the story because he is without a doubt one of the most wonderful human beings I have ever met and it's incredible to me he's been dragged into all this," she said.

A fourth priest, Rev. David C. Murphy, 65, was listed as serving as a chaplain at Brockton Hospital since November 1997. He faces multiple allegations of abuse.

"We pay the archdiocese for spiritual care services and there is no single chaplain at the hospital," said Robert L. Hughes, spokesman for Brockton Hospital. "I don't know how active Father Murphy is. We are as shocked and surprised as everyone else. We have had no communications whatsoever from the archdiocese, and here we are at 6 p.m. on a Thursday night."

In the 1970s, Murphy lived in the rectory of St. Peter and Paul Church in South Boston and would sometimes drive young neighborhood boys from the projects to school on his way to his archdiocesan chancery office in Brighton.

The other two priests, Rev. Robert A. Ward, 55, and Rev. Thomas P. Forry, 60, were both listed as facing single allegations of sex abuse. Ward was assigned in January 2001 to the Development Office at the archdiocese, while Forry was assigned in June 1999 to a "temporary emergency response group" of unassigned priests.

Ward's sister, Nancy Bjorneby of Malverne, N.Y., reacted with shock and anger last night on learning her brother was accused of pedophilia. "Not my brother," Bjorneby said. "This has to be someone trying to get revenge on him. This is just absolutely devastating. I'm absolutely sick."

Having grown up in Massachusetts, Bjorneby said she is aware of the crisis swamping the archdiocese. The allegation resulting in her brother's suspension amounts to "guilty until you're proven innocent. It's a witch hunt," she said.

Forry was featured in a 1990 Boston Herald article about the fears of Massachusetts residents whose loved ones were involved in Middle Eastern affairs when Iraq invaded Kuwait. At the time, he was a chaplain with the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg, N.C. He is a former curate at St. Elizabeth's Church in Milton, and parishes in Scituate and Kingston.

Even as the six active priests were suspended yesterday, the Middlesex District Attorney's office received the names of 12 more priests who were accused of child molestation between 1950 and 1986. Middlesex had previously received 10 names on Jan. 30.

The Norfolk DA's office received three new names, and confirmed three others that the office had asked about, for a total of 13 names from the archdiocese. But the office said it now has received five other names from other sources that it will ask for information on, for a total of 18 accused priests.

The Plymouth County DA's office received another five names, on top of the five received earlier. Officials in Essex and Barnstable did not receive new names. The Suffolk office received a sealed package, which had not been opened last night.

Although as many as 60 priests' names have been turned over to DAs by the archdiocese, it is unclear whether any of those names are duplicated in different jurisdictions, which would lower the actual number of accused priests.

The archdiocese has not provided details of cases and victims' names that some DAs have demanded. Yesterday, an official in one DA's office said: "They already know what we are looking for is not just the names of priests, a date and 'teenage male.' Yet they continue to give us information they know we consider to be insufficient."

The fact that at least six more accused pedophiles were identified as working for the archdiocese is another excruciating embarrassment for Bernard Cardinal Law. Two times in January, Law assured the public during news conferences that not a single priest facing credible allegations of molestation was still on his payroll.

"As I have indicated," Law said on Jan. 25, "there is no priest, or former priest, working in this archdiocese in any assignment whom we know to have been responsible for sexual abuse. I hope you get that straight."

Law made that statement while touting the archdiocese's new "zero tolerance" policy for men of the cloth accused of molesting minors. That policy arose after documents emerged showing a long pattern by Law and the archdiocese to put the protection of pedophile priests like Geoghan and others ahead of victims and their families.

Since the Geoghan revelations, numerous victims have been emboldened to come forward with allegations against former and current priests. The archdiocese has been forced to acknowledge that it quietly settled dozens of lawsuits against pedophiles in the clergy.

Because it was free of mandatory reporting requirements governing child abusers, critics say the archdiocese routinely allowed alleged repeat abusers to slink back into the public sphere.

One longtime parish priest in the archdiocese said yesterday the chancery's response to the scandal has severely affected morale among the rank-and-file priests.

"Morale is terrible. The first thing we do is get up in the morning and go get a newspaper with a trembling hand and hope there is nothing in it," said the priest.

He also said priests whom the cardinal has been naming as suspected sexual abusers are discussing their legal rights and considering suing the archdiocese for breach-of-contract or defamation.

"Priests are thinking about it. There are a lot of serious questions about some of those who've been named. In other cases, people feel there has been a betrayal of trust here - promises were made to keep this information confidential," the priest said.

Meanwhile, Law was named as the sole defendant in another lawsuit filed in Middlesex Superior Court yesterday by a 26-year-old man who claims he was sexually molested by Geoghan in 1989 in Weston, when he was 13.

The complaint states that Law was negligent in hiring and supervising Geoghan because he reportedly knew of the many allegations Geoghan was sexually abusing kids but allowed him to return to St. Julia's Parish after being sent away to a treatment center for molesting children.

"It's just going to go on and on," predicted Tom Fox, editor of the National Catholic Reporter, of the Boston crisis. "Because Boston is a major see (archdiocese), and the numbers are so large, coming out piecemeal, it sounds awful. It sounds dispiriting. This is going to linger. It's not going to go away."

 
 

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