BC High Suspends Priest Accused of Student Molestation
By Sacha Pfeiffer, Thomas Farragher and Walter V. Robinson
March 6, 2002
One day after a disclosure that two Jesuit priests allegedly molested students at Boston College High School two decades ago, a third Jesuit was suspended from his teaching position yesterday after accusations that he, too, molested a student during the same period.
In addition to the school's suspension of the Rev. Stephen F. Dawber, the Jesuits' New England province removed a second of the three, the Rev. Francis J. McManus, from his job as a hospital chaplain in New Bedford yesterday.
The third Jesuit, the Rev. James Talbot, was removed from active ministry in 1998 after he was accused of molesting a student at Cheverus High School in Portland, Maine. Eight other men who say Talbot molested them at BC High in the 1970s, in some cases forcibly, have now come forward - several of them yesterday after news reports about Talbot and McManus.
The prestigious Society of Jesus, identified for the first time in the priest abuse scandal that has enveloped the Archdiocese of Boston, said Talbot's 1980 transfer to Maine was "routine." But interviews with numerous former BC High students, and two letters from 1979 and 1980, suggest that Talbot's transfer occurred under a cloud of suspicion.
For a tight-knit and devoutly Catholic Maine family who befriended Talbot as he taught and coached their sons at Cheverus, the consequences of that transfer have been calamitous. Talbot kept a room, and a closetful of clothes, at their Freeport home. Then he repeatedly molested their youngest son, Michael Doherty, the family said. Michael's lawsuit against Talbot, Cheverus, and the Portland diocese was settled last year.
Late yesterday, William T. Kemeza, BC High's acting president, said he had temporarily suspended Dawber, a history teacher at the school, saying he felt it "prudent" because of an allegation of sexual abuse against Dawber and "a desire to protect the students of BC High."
Kemeza's action, endorsed by the school's trustees, came after the school learned a BC High graduate had related to the Globe in detail how Dawber, now 63, became his mentor in the early 1970s, in a relationship that became increasingly sexual until Dawber allegedly molested him.
In an interview, Kemeza said Dawber was advised not to respond to the allegation and he did not. Attempts by the Globe to reach Dawber for comment, by telephone and in person, were unsuccessful. On Monday and yesterday, McManus and Talbot did not return calls seeking comment.
Last night, Kemeza said there is a "sadness" on the campus of the elite high school, where virtually all the teachers are now laypersons. Using the school's public address system, Kemeza reminded the 1,260 boys that all of the alleged incidents occurred before any of them were born.
McManus was placed on administrative leave yesterday from his longtime job as chaplain at St. Luke Hospital in New Bedford by the Jesuit provincial administrator after one former BC High student told authorities that McManus molested him in the early 1980s.
Another alleged victim of McManus, Thomas J. Bunszell, said in an interview last night that he was so upset that McManus groped him twice that he returned his diploma to the high school in 1988.
Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., an attorney for the Jesuit New England province, said in an interview that he plans to turn over the names of an unspecified number of Jesuits, including Talbot and McManus, to prosecutors when he meets Thursday with aides to Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley.
He declined to say whether any other Jesuits involved had been affiliated with BC High.
Reports spur more allegations
The publication of Talbot's name yesterday brought more alleged victims forward, including one man who told the Globe he dropped out of BC High and had serious problems for years after Talbot molested him in the mid-1970s. The man asked that details of his plight be withheld.
Under Globe policy, victims of sexual abuse are not identified unless they wish to be.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse, said he has been recently contacted by four alleged Talbot victims, three of them former BC High students. The fourth was a student at another high school.
Two additional alleged victims have been interviewed by the Globe. All seven said they were molested by Talbot during the eight years he was at BC High, from 1972 to 1980. An eighth former student settled a claim against BC High and Talbot within the past two years.
When Talbot was sued for the molestation at Cheverus, he responded under oath last year to interrogatories. To several questions, including whether he had sexually abused students at BC High, Talbot did not answer, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
BC High officials insisted yesterday they have no record of any sex abuse complaints against Talbot while he taught at the school.
How much BC High administrators knew about Talbot at the time may never be certain. The Rev. Raymond J. Callahan, the school's president from 1973 to 1987, died in 1997. The principal at the time, the Rev. Thomas J. Gibbons, died just last week.
But the signs were there, Talbot's alleged victims said. There was his bizarre habit of wrestling with students, sometimes one-on-one, often in various states of undress - and sometimes after persuading the teenage boys he taught and coached to strip down to their athletic supporters.
There was, after eight years at BC High, his transfer to Cheverus, a move accompanied by a paper trail that hinted at inappropriate behavior.
"No outward talk about internal situation here so it looks like a smooth transition," Talbot wrote in a Dec. 17, 1979 letter to Dawber made available to the Globe. Dawber, the priest who was suspended yesterday, was the principal of Cheverus at the time.
And Dawber, in a Feb. 14, 1980 letter recommending Talbot for a faculty position at Cheverus, described the school as having better "oversight" and being "far more conducive to a healthier lifestyle than BC High." Talbot made the move in mid-1980.
But the oversight proved deficient, and Talbot's move to Maine was ultimately devastating for the Doherty family of Freeport, who welcomed Talbot into their home, only to learn years later that he had molested one of their four children.
Even today, across a span of 20 years, Talbot's conduct at BC High is regarded by some of his former players as the benign product of the intense persona of a hard-driven soccer coach - the stern man in long, dark sideburns who demanded much from his team and accepted no less.
His nickname was Mad Dog Talbot.
John Dunn, a 1979 BC High graduate who was subsequently a teacher and administrator at the school, recalled that after the team performed disappointingly in a game against Quincy, Talbot ordered the team bus to depart empty. The players ran back to school. Dunn is the public relations director for Boston College, but he emphasized that he was speaking only as a former BC High student and member of the school's board of trustees.
"I look back on Father Talbot as one of the better influences in my life in terms of discipline," said Dennis Boyd, who played for Talbot in 1979. "He made sure we busted our tails and that's why we were successful as we were. We were in so much better shape than other teams."
But several of Boyd's contemporaries recall Talbot's strange fondness for wrestling with his players in the soccer team's locker room. Foam mats would be placed on the floor. Talbot would suggest his schoolboy opponent strip down to his athletic supporter.
Michael T. Giordano, a 1979 graduate of the school, said he and another player were called to the locker room to wrestle with their teacher. Giordano, who said he ultimately did not wrestle Talbot that day, said the coach wore shorts. His teenage opponent wore an athletic supporter.
"Wrestling in jock straps. That did go on," said Giordano. "It was really hush-hush. People said that was a bad thing."
Some of the wrestlers say that the private sessions Talbot lured them to have caused them lasting damage.
One of Talbot's alleged victims, a 43-year-old South Shore man who is now married with children, said Talbot persuaded him to go to the school locker room during his free period for private wrestling sessions that turned increasingly rough.
"He said it would be a good way for me to stay in shape, and I just thought he was this possessed wrestling guy," said the man, who graduated in the mid-1970s and owns a contracting business. "Before I knew it, he had me down and reached under my jock strap. He got me in a position where I think he was waiting for me to get aroused. Then it all hit me - he had led me up to it step by step."
Struggling with after-effects
Another alleged victim, a BC High hockey player who is now a local businessman, said he has been troubled for years by the psychological after-effects of what Talbot did to him in early 1978. Arriving for a Saturday wrestling session only to find that no one else had been invited, the man recalled how Talbot pinned him before allegedly molesting him.
"As I think back - and I have honestly tried not to for the last 20 years - I thought it was just me, that it had just happened to me. As I got older, I would not bring it up for that reason," he said. "Throughout my adolescence, I wondered if I was a homosexual because of what happened."
"You know, you hear it said of women when they are raped, 'They brought it on themselves.' And that is exactly how I felt . . . I was 15. Your hormones are going crazy and all. Suddenly this guy is doing this to you, and so you question yourself."
Because Talbot left Massachusetts for Maine in 1980 and did not return to reside at the Jesuit Campion Center in Weston until two years ago, the criminal statute of limitations on many of the incidents has not expired. The statute clock stops running when someone who commits a crime leaves the state.
While Talbot allegedly used force to molest some of his victims, BC High graduates who said they were molested by McManus and Dawber described mentoring relationships in which the two priests gradually sought to introduce intimate behavior.
For example, a Connecticut businessman who filed a complaint against McManus with the Bristol district attorney's office last Sunday said McManus befriended him over two years, taking him on weekend day trips and giving him alcohol.
In the complaint and in interviews with the Globe, the 1983 BC High graduate said McManus sought to molest him when the two were house-sitting for friends one evening. "I ended my friendship with McManus when I realized his primary interest in me was sexual," the man said in his complaint.
A 1976 BC High graduate who says he was molested by Dawber described a similar scenario in an interview with the Globe. The man said Dawber frequently invited him and other students to his room at an off-campus residence for young Jesuits on Bushnell Street in Dorchester, where they discussed ideas and theories, often while drinking alcohol.
Often, Dawber also met with the man alone, and with time, "suddenly there were a lot of sexual advances," the man said.
Eventually, one of the meetings became physical. "It happened after over a year of these drinking sessions and heart-to-hearts and discussions of philosophy and politics and art.
"There had been previous times when he'd say, 'Why don't we just take our clothes off and sit. I won't touch you,' " the man said. "I had managed to sort of say no, but I didn't have the sense to cut the relationship off on those previous occasions. He was someone I admired and trusted and who really took great time and care to talk with me about every aspect of my life."
Revelations shock family
In Maine, the Doherty family was stunned by Michael Doherty's disclosure that he was sexually abused by Talbot when he was 15 and 16.
Talbot was a constant presence in the Doherty home, and he was given freedom to come and go as he pleased, the family said. He shared weekends and holidays with the family, often taking the Dohertys' three sons on outings to a local racetrack and elsewhere.
"I felt he had actually shared in the raising of my children," said Frank Doherty, Michael's father, who graduated from Cheverus in 1957.
In an interview with the Globe in Freeport, Michael Doherty said that, as a teenager, he grew to consider Talbot a valued companion, a sentiment that he now believes Talbot recognized and exploited.
"He played on that - that feeling of being special, of having a friend nobody else had," Michael said.
As time progressed, Michael said, Talbot's relationship with him took a sexual turn and came to involve suggestive comments by the priest.
The inappropriate remarks persisted until, on an overnight trip to northern Maine, "the situation escalated," and Talbot molested him, Michael said.
For years, he told no one what had occurred. But in the early 1990 he began to reveal bits of the story to his siblings, who for several years honored his request that they keep the abuse secret.
His sister, Courtney Doherty Oland, broke that promise in 1998 when she wrote a letter to the Portland diocese notifying church officials of the abuse. Soon after, Talbot was removed from the school and sent to a Maryland treatment center for sexually abusive priests, marking the second teacher at Cheverus, in addition to Charles Malia, to be ousted over sex abuse complaints.
In 1998, the case broke into public view when Michael filed a lawsuit against Talbot, Cheverus, and the diocese. And then the family suffered another blow: Expecting to receive widespread support from friends, neighbors, and Cheverus alumni, the Dohertys say they instead found themselves shunned by area residents. The phone stopped ringing. Longtime acquaintances averted their eyes when passing them on the street.
Michael, too, was pained by the public response.
"I think he felt everyone would support him," Oland said "and no one did."
Back at BC High, Kemeza, asked yesterday whether someone in his position today would know if a faculty member was wrestling with students wearing athletic supporters: "Yes, I would know about it." He added: "The way the school is structured today, events like this would not take place."
In recent years, Kemeza said, the school has held faculty workshops on appropriate behavior with students. To increase student safety, he said, BC High has also installed windows in the doors to some rooms. Spotlight contact information Confidential messages, on this issue or any other, can also be left at (617) 929-7483.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.