|Clergy Scandal May Intensify in '03
More Revelations As Cases Proceed
By Kathleen A. Shaw
Telegram & Gazette
January 2, 2003
- The scandal involving sexual misconduct by Catholic priests will not be going away anytime soon.
If anything, the revelations will be intensifying in this area during 2003, according to Boston lawyer Carmen L. Durso, who represents several clients in civil suits involving priests of the Worcester Catholic Diocese.
Daniel J. Shea, of Houston, who is also handling civil suits in this area, including one against Auxiliary Bishop George E. Rueger, said he expects more information about the sex abuse scandal to come out as lawyers begin the discovery process in their civil suits.
Mr. Durso said he hopes the state Legislature passes a proposed law abolishing the statute of limitations for child sexual abuse in civil and criminal cases and abolishes the "charitable immunity" protection that has allowed "certain favored institutions" to avoid paying hefty settlements.
Seven priests were removed from ministry during 2002 by Bishop Daniel P. Reilly after allegations of sexual misconduct were made and another is on personal leave after a civil suit was filed naming him as an abuser.
The Worcester diocese currently is facing several civil suits alleging sexual abuse by priests and one suit alleging rape and sexual abuse by Bishop Rueger, who denies the charges.
The Rev. Robert E. Kelley, who admitted in depositions that he molested dozens of girls, is still facing criminal charges of child rape in Worcester Superior Court and has two civil suits pending.
District Attorney John J. Conte is in the process of having the Rev. Paul Desilets, who allegedly molested boys in Bellingham, extradited from Canada to face criminal charges in Worcester.
The Rev. Thomas A. Teczar, of Webster, is currently facing charges of sexual abuse of a minor in Texas. He was served with an extradition warrant from Texas and that case is currently pending before Uxbridge District Court. Rev. Teczar was in Worcester Superior Court in November because of a civil suit filed by David Lewcon, of Webster, an alleged victim. The jury decided that Rev. Teczar sexually abused Mr. Lewcon when he was a teenager and caused him harm, but it declined to award any money.
Monsignor Joseph Chu Cong, of St. Joseph's Abbey, a Trappist monastery in Spencer, was arraigned in the Western Worcester District Court, East Brookfield, on a sexual assault charge involving a woman.
A lawsuit was filed by a Princeton man against Assumption College and the Assumptionist order alleging he was abused by Rev. John Martin and the late Brother Robert Beaulac.
"Last year was the year of revelations. I sincerely hope that this year will be the year of resolution," Mr. Durso said. While he holds hope, he said, the Worcester diocese has adopted an "unspoken" legal strategy of forcing their suits to trial rather than settling. "We are open to discussions but it doesn't appear to be in the cards," he said.
Mr. Shea said the Los Angeles archdiocese, rather than risk the kinds of revelations that came out in the Boston cases, is choosing to settle out of court to keep records from being made public.
Mr. Shea added that the scandal will not be dying down here or nationally. Hundreds of lawsuits are expected in California, where the state Legislature abolished the statute of limitations on child sexual abuse for the whole of 2003. "I understand 200 suits have been filed already and the law just took effect," Mr. Shea said.
He checked laws in about 20 states and found that lawsuits involving clergy misconduct are coming from states that have looser statutes of limitations on when a victim can bring a civil suit.
Massachusetts is one of the more liberal states, because the clock does not start on child sexual abuse until the person realizes sexual abuse that occurred years earlier caused the problems the person is currently experiencing.
Mr. Shea said Vermont has a similar law, but it was done through legislative action. Massachusetts' statute was done through the judiciary and one of the main framers of the "harm" rule was the late Judge Daniel Toomey, of Worcester.
Some have called 2002 the "annus horriblis" for the Catholic church as revelation after revelation came out of Boston, eventually forcing the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law as head of the archdiocese. The scandal by year's end reached around the world.
Allegations came out of Ireland, where one bishop was forced to resign because he covered for a priest who had abused a number of children, and another cardinal was on the public hot seat for his handling of clerical sexual abuse in the Dublin diocese. Australia, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, the Philippines and other countries were touched by the scandal in one way or another.
"We know there are far more victims out there than who have come forward, Mr. Durso said.
Some people believe the abuse allegations coming forward are old and that it is not a current problem, he said. Children undoubtedly are being abused now, but it can take anywhere from 10 to 20 years for them to recognize the harm that was done and begin talking about the abuse, he said.
While some alleged victims have said they will not cooperate with tribunals to be set up by the diocese to try accused priests, others said they will.
Todd Hammond, of Oxford, who said he was abused by the Rev. Joseph Coonan before he became a priest, said he and several other men are willing to cooperate with the church tribunals. "I have gotten calls from eight to 10 men and we are ready to go," he said.
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