Crisis in the Church / New Accusations
Two Men File Suit Alleging Abuse by Priest in 1970s and '80s
By Michael Rezendes
May 29, 2002
Two Allston-Brighton men have filed lawsuits in Suffolk Superior Court saying they were sexually abused in the late 1970s and early 1980s by the Rev. John P. Lyons, now the pastor of St. Rose of Lima Church in Rochester.
In interviews with the Globe, the men said Lyons molested them when they were altar boys at Our Lady of the Presentation Church, in Brighton, by putting his hands in their pockets and fondling them.
Lyons said yesterday he was not aware of the lawsuits and denied the allegations. "I never did that, no, dear God, no," he said when told of the complaints.
One of the alleged victims said in an interview that his parents reported the alleged abuse to another priest, the Rev. John J. Nichols, who is now retired. He also said that Nichols took the complaint to a Chancery official, Bishop John M. D'Arcy, but that his family never received word of any disciplinary action against Lyons.
Jeffrey A. Newman, the attorney representing the two alleged victims, said he will seek to depose D'Arcy, who is now the bishop of the Fort Wayne-South Bend, Ind., diocese to find out if the church had knowledge of complaints against Lyons.
"We'll be aggressively pursuing this and every other aspect of the case to determine who knew what," Newman said.
A spokesman for the archdiocese, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, said church officials made a preliminary review of archdiocesan records early last night and did not find any complaints against Lyons.
"As far as we can tell this is the first time we've heard of these allegations," Coyne said, adding that the archdiocese will continue to investigate the claims.
Nichols, who retired as pastor of Saint Albert the Great Church in Weymouth earlier this year, is living in Rhode Island and could not be reached for comment. D'Arcy also could not be reached.
The alleged victims filed their lawsuits last month and have chosen to remain anonymous. The Globe does not print the names of alleged victims of sexual abuse without their consent and the courts, at their discretion, allow alleged victims of abuse to remain anonymous.
In an interview, one of the alleged victims said he was repeatedly fondled by Lyons - perhaps as many as 15 times - over a period of two years before he gained the courage to fend off the priest's advances.
"As I got older there was a day when he came over and I basically elbowed him," the man said, adding that Lyons then attempted to grab him, leaving scratch marks on his back.
The man said the abuse typically occurred when he was preparing to help serve Mass, when Lyons would come up behind him and allegedly put his hands into his pants pockets and fondle his genitals. "It wasn't just me," the man said. "He did it to a lot of the altar boys. It was pretty much common knowledge."
The second alleged victim, who has also chosen to remain anonymous, said in a separate interview that he was fondled by Lyons in a similar manner in about 1980.
This victim said that when he jingled his change, out of habit, Lyons demanded to know what he had in his pockets.
"I took my hands out of my pockets and he put his hand in and moved it around my private area," he said.
The alleged victim said he was fondled only once, and in the presence of another altar boy.
"I just knew something was definitely out of whack," he said. "I told the other kid I was getting out of there and told him if he had any sense he'd get out of there, too. And that's how my career as an altar boy ended."
The mother of the first victim said in an interview yesterday that her son told her and her late husband of the abuse on the day he allegedly fended off Lyons.
"If my husband had gone up to the rectory that day he would have killed that priest." the mother said. "I was the one that stopped him, much to my regret today."
The mother, a Brighton resident, said that she at first did nothing about her son's complaint, out of deference to the church and consideration of a relative who was close to Lyons.
"It's the way I was brought up. You never said anything bad about a priest," she said.
But about a year later, she said she confided in a newly assigned priest in the parish, Nichols, and that Nichols took the matter to D'Arcy, who was working under the late Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros.
D'Arcy, she said, told Nichols to have her make a complaint to the pastor of Our Lady of Presentation, Lyons' director superior, but the mother never did.
"I was just afraid," she said.
The alleged victim said that he reviewed the history of his family's complaints with Nichols in a conversation about two months ago, and that Nichols confirmed that he had taken the complaint to D'Arcy.
"I struggled with this," he said, referring to his decision to file suit. "I haven't been able to read a paper or watch the news."
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