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  Hughes Discloses Suspension of Priest
Jesuit Accused of Molesting Youth in Massachusetts 30 Years Ago

By Bruce Nolan
The Times-Picayune [New Orleans, LA]
April 20, 2002

Archbishop Alfred Hughes disclosed Friday he has suspended a local Jesuit priest now accused of molesting a youth while the priest was stationed in Massachusetts about 30 years ago.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans said Hughes suspended the Rev. Charles G. Coyle on April 4, but disclosed it Friday as news of the accusation surfaced in a lawsuit in Boston.

Coyle, who is not attached to a New Orleans-area parish, was not available for comment. Church officials said his records contain no complaints of sexual abuse during his career in New Orleans. No one answered the door at his condominium in Jefferson.

Meanwhile, two lawyers for the archdiocese on Friday gave St. Tammany Parish Sheriff Jack Strain Jr. a file containing a potential criminal allegation against an unnamed church official, Strain's office said.

The delivery presumably was the first act in Hughes' promise to begin sharing complaints of inappropriate conduct by priests with local law enforcement officials.

Strain, who last week demanded that Hughes turn over any such complaints that might concern him as sheriff, declined to disclose any details in the file, or the ground covered during a 90-minute meeting with the church lawyers on Friday.

"Until we've had time to investigate this, it would be inappropriate for me to discuss the case," he said. "But I can say that we are confident and comfortable that this alleged perpetrator poses no danger to children in St. Tammany Parish or elsewhere."

He called the disclosure "a great first step."

Like many Catholic bishops across the country, Hughes has announced changes in archdiocesan policies for handling complaints of sexual abuse by priests. Some of those changes involve sharing information about complaints that were once held in the strictest confidence.

Hughes announced in February that church officials had begun reviewing the personnel files of every priest and permanent deacon now working in New Orleans.

Church investigators forwarded "credible" complaints of sexual abuse of minors to a lay committee, headed by former Attorney General William Guste, which was to advise whether to share them with law enforcement, a spokesman for Hughes said.

Having turned over some information to Strain in St. Tammany, church officials have said a similar meeting will occur soon with Orleans Parish District Attorney Harry Connick and representatives of the New Orleans Police Department.

Although the developments involving the St. Tammany case and Coyle developed within hours of each other, there appeared to be no connection.

Coyle's personnel records in New Orleans were among those recently reviewed, and contain no allegations of sexual misconduct, said the Revs. William Maestri, the archdiocesan spokesman, and the Rev. Tom Stahel of the Jesuits' New Orleans Province.

The Boston Globe reported Friday that a man in Newton, Mass., was to file suit there alleging that Coyle molested him in the early 1970s while he was a student at Newton South High School, where Coyle reportedly worked as a guidance counselor.

The man alleged that Coyle had sex with him at Coyle's house, and that a second student living with Coyle at the time later committed suicide.

The Globe said Coyle declined to discuss his current assignment or answer questions on the advice of his lawyer.

Hughes quietly suspended Coyle April 4 as soon as he learned of the allegations through Coyle's Jesuit superiors in New Orleans, Maestri said. He said he did not know how the Jesuits learned of the allegations.

Hughes did not disclose the suspension until the lawsuit hit the media "because we also wanted to respect the rights and sensitivities of Father Coyle," said Maestri. "In the minds of many people this suspension means automatic guilt, but ours is not to judge. That will take place in Newton."

The suspension means Coyle is unable to celebrate Mass or perform the sacraments as a priest.

Coyle, a Jesuit, worked as a priest largely outside the Jesuit community since at least 1980, sometimes attached to parishes as an assistant to diocesan pastors.

Maestri said Coyle has worked "on and off" for the archdiocese. "It has not been steady employment," Maestri said. And Stahel said Coyle took a brief leave of absence during which he did not function as a priest, although he said he did not know exactly when that was or how long it lasted.

In fact, Maestri was unable to provide a comprehensive timeline of Coyle's assignments, although he said it was clear he lived at St. Cecilia Parish in the mid-1980s, worked for a while as chaplain at nearby Holy Cross High School and as a chaplain at Tulane University. He also worked from 1982 to 1983 as an associate pastor at St. Andrew the Apostle Catholic Church in Algiers, and at a New Orleans' spiritual center called Center for Jesus the Lord.

More recently, Coyle lived on his own and did "personal evangelization," meaning he filled in for vacationing priests, preached local retreats or missions and apparently filled his time with his own assignments, Maestri and Stahel said.

Coyle taught briefly at Jesuit High School in the early 1960s and was ordained in 1965, according to the archdiocesan directory. It was not clear why he was assigned to the Boston area early in his career. He would have been a priest working at a public high school during the time the alleged abuse occurred.

Coyle's condominium is in an upscale area near Riverdale Middle and High Schools. A postcard taped to the door Friday afternoon depicted a cat walking past a line of German shepherds, with the line from the 23rd Psalm: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil."

 
 

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