Hub Was Warned about Priest; Wis. Bishop Told Medeiros of Past Sexual Misconduct
By Robin Washington
April 24, 2002
A Bay State priest later convicted of child molestation in Wisconsin was accepted into the Archdiocese of Boston by the late Humberto Cardinal Medeiros and reassigned by Bernard Cardinal Law even though a Wisconsin bishop had warned Boston church officials about him, records show.
The Rev. Thomas F. Dempsey, who pleaded guilty to molestation charges in La Crosse, Wis., before dying on a Bellingham, Mass., golf course a year later, was assigned to parishes in Framingham and Weymouth by Law more than a decade after Bishop Frederick W. Freking of La Crosse told Medeiros he was a danger to children.
"I am somewhat reluctant to see Father Dempsey give up his affiliation with the diocese because I had always hoped that the difficulties which arose at the time he left here to return to Boston might be overcome," Freking wrote Medeiros on Nov. 13, 1975.
James Birnbaum, the attorney for the La Crosse Diocese, confirmed yesterday that "difficulties" referred to sexual misconduct.
"There was disclosure. (The letter) indicates the nature of that," Birnbaum said. "We tried to deal with this fairly aggressively, even back then."
Archdiocese of Boston officials did not return a call seeking comment.
Paul Heintz, 48, a La Crosse man who sued Dempsey for molestation in 1993 and later succeeded in having him brought back to the small Midwestern city to face criminal charges, said Dempsey's child sex spree dated back to his arrival there after his 1955 ordination.
"He kept getting caught. He was in 15 parishes from 1955 to 1970," said Heintz, who obtained internal church documents detailing the clergyman's odyssey as part of the discovery process for his suit.
Those documents include assignment letters in which the priest is admonished about his contact with teens and children.
In a letter dated Aug. 16, 1968, Freking assigned Dempsey to St. Charles Parish in Genoa, Wis., bringing up "the burden of transporting the high school students."
"I urge you to be very prudent in these matters," the bishop wrote. "I am concerned also thatthere will be no recurrences of your experiences in your first assignment in a parish."
Heintz said a deposition of church officials taken in his case and numerous accusations that later came to light make clear the references are about child molestation. He also said Dempsey made frequent trips to Boston, ostensibly to visit his mother.
"Every time he got caught, they sent him back to Boston to cool his heels. The last time he had to leave for good," Heintz said.
Before his ordination, the papers show, Dempsey worked at Camp Fatima in Gilmanton Iron Works, N.H., a church-run facility that has been associated with other child sexual abuse accusations.
"I have been working at this camp for two years and I am very much interested in youth guidance," Dempsey wrote in his application to the seminary.
In another twist, after permanently relocating to the Bay State, Dempsey was asked by Freking to visit another priest at the House of Affirmation in Whitinsville, a rehabilitation center for pedophiles and other troubled clergy. "Obviously, he is a sick man and it may take some time for him to recover," Freking wrote of the priest, whose name was redacted from the document.
"I would be pleased if you could perhaps contact him and might give him some encouragement."
Heintz, represented by attorney Jeffrey Anderson of Minneapolis, won the suit but said it was voided by a 1995 Wisconsin State Supreme Court decision holding such suits against churches unconstitutional.
He said he was initially rebuffed when reporting his abuse to diocesan officials. "At first the diocese said it didn't happen. Then some other guys said it happened to them and they had told the diocese years earlier."
At his conviction, Dempsey apologized to his victims, news accounts show.
Heintz said he pursued criminal charges against the priest in 1997 and succeeded in having him returned to La Crosse, where Dempsey accepted a plea bargain on one count to avoid jail time. But Heintz said he was baffled how Dempsey could have been reassigned to Massachusetts parishes.
Dempsey served at St. Michael's in Hudson (1970-72) and St. Clare's in Braintree (1972-74) before his permanent return to the Bay State, and at St. Anthony's in Cohasset (1974-77) and Weymouth's Sacred Heart (1977-85) afterward.
Under Law, he was assigned to St. Stephen's in Framingham (1985-86) and again to Sacred Heart from 1986 until his 1989 retirement.
"Here's another priest assigned by Bernard Law that they were aware was accused of molesting little boys," Heintz said.
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