Crisis in the Church
Accused Priests Were Often on Law's Calendar
By Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer
January 10, 2003
On Oct. 29, 1984, then-archbishop Bernard F. Law hosted a private lunch for retired Monsignor Mark H. Keohane, the influential founding pastor of St. Bartholomew Church in Needham - and the uncle and surrogate father of the Rev. John J. Geoghan.
Six weeks earlier, Law had ended Geoghan's assignment as a parish priest at St. Brendan Church in Dorchester, the second consecutive assignment in which Geoghan had been accused of sexually molesting boys.
But two days after meeting with Keohane, Law wrote a letter to Geoghan informing him that he was being reassigned as a parish priest to St. Julia Church in Weston, one of the wealthiest communities in the archdiocese.
"I am confident that you will render fine priestly service to the People of God in St. Julia Parish," Law wrote.
Keohane's lunch with Law was one of thousands of entries included among more than 800 pages of appointments from Law's personal calendar released yesterday as part of a lawsuit filed by alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.
The entries do not indicate whether Law kept every appointment, but they do show Law had scheduled meetings with more than 35 priests who had been, or would be, formally accused of sexual misconduct - a pattern that seems to contradict pretrial testimony in which he repeatedly described his role in supervising accused priests as limited.
Questioned in May of last year about his decision to reassign Geoghan, Law said, "Months after I came here as archbishop, I was relying upon those assisting me to handle this adequately."
And in a later deposition, Law again portrayed himself as a leader who relied on the judgment and guidance of subordinates. "As I sit here, do I know of cases that were not dealt with adequately? No, I don't," said Law, who was elevated to cardinal in 1985.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer representing alleged Shanley victims, said yesterday that Law's calendar raises new questions about the role that Law played in supervising accused priests.
"I was surprised when I saw the calendar, given the cardinal's initial testimony about his relative lack of involvement in these matters," MacLeish said. "We look forward to deposing him again on the number of times he actually met face-to-face with those accused of sexual misconduct."
Neither J. Owen Todd, who has been acting as Law's personal attorney, nor Donna M. Morrissey, spokeswoman for the archdiocese, returned calls seeking comment on Law's calendar.
Keohane's lunch with Law was not the first time the monsignor reached out to high church officials at a time of crisis for his nephew.
Church records released last year show that in 1955, when Geoghan was a troubled student at St. John Seminary, Keohane wrote to the seminary rector to explain that Geoghan was going to miss a mandatory summer camp because he was in a "nervous and depressed state."
After a terse response from the rector, the Rev. Thomas J. Riley, Keohane wrote again, saying, "I resent your implication that I sought favors or preferment for John."
Keohane helped raise Geoghan after the death of Geoghan's father and was part owner of the West Roxbury home where Geoghan and his sister, Catherine, were raised. Keohane died in 1998.
The record of Law's appointments released yesterday spans his tenure as leader of the archdiocese from 1984 through the end of last year. But it contains unexplained gaps ranging from a day to several months.
Still, Law's calendar shows him scheduled to meet often with priests accused of sexual misconduct from his first weeks on the job until June 2001, when he had a half-hour meeting with the Rev. Ronald L. Paquin, who was indicted on three counts of child rape last year.
Other accused priests granted face-to-face meetings with Law include:
* The Rev. Thomas P. Forry. In August 1984, Law met twice with Forry, who earlier that month had been urged by clinicians to enter a clergy treatment center for allegedly beating up his housekeeper and carrying on a long-term sexual relationship with a woman.
But after Law met with Forry, he was returned to his South Weymouth parish and later became a military chaplain.
Law met with Forry four more times between 1993 and 1995, when Forry was a prison chaplain. The archdiocesan Review Board, which examines cases of problem priests, took up Forry's case five times between 1993 and 1998, and as recently as 1999 another priest warned the archdiocese that Forry was a "deeply troubled person" who needed psychological evaluation. But Forry was not removed from ministry until February 2002.
* Robert V. Meffan. Law's calendar shows that he met with Meffan on Oct. 1, 1984, and again on Dec. 13, 1984, about a week after Meffan told a top church official that he had a special "mission" from God that made it impossible for him to accept a regular assignment. The remark prompted one of Law's aides to declare that Meffan was unbalanced.
Last month, Meffan admitted that he had initiated sexual acts with teenage girls preparing to become nuns during the 1970s by encouraging them to believe they were making love to Jesus Christ.
The archdiocese documented its first complaint against Meffan in 1980, although the complaint is only vaguely described. A complaint that he molested a teenage girl was made in 1986, yet Meffan remained assigned to a parish until two additional abuse allegations were made in 1993, prompting church officials to place him on administrative leave.
During a 1993 Review Board evaluation, Meffan said that if he touched anyone "on any sexual parts, it was accidental" and admitted that he had been hugged around his legs by a kneeling female. Law met with Meffan again on June 14, 1996, according to his calendar, and granted him "senior priest/retirement status" three days later.
* The Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham. On Sept. 18, 1985, Law met with Birmingham, whose alleged rampant sexual abuse of boys first resulted in a complaint to church officials in 1964, four years after his ordination. More than 50 men are now suing the archdiocese over alleged abuse by Birmingham spanning about 25 years.
Law's 1985 meeting with Birmingham came three months before Law appointed him pastor of St. Ann's parish in Gloucester. The subject of their discussion is not described in Law's calendar. But three months earlier, a psychiatrist who had examined Birmingham wrote that the priest felt "guilty and anxious over his sexual preoccupation" but had no apparent "psychiatric deficits."
Within a year, a St. Ann's parishioner complained that her son had been fondled by Birmingham, who acknowledged "difficulty" when confonted with the allegation by church officials. Birmingham was then removed from St. Ann's and placed on sick leave. He died in April 1989, and Law officiated at his funeral Mass.
* The Rev. Bernard J. Lane. In 1978, church officials were told that Lane had sexually molested a teenage boy while Lane was director of the now-shuttered Alpha-Omega House, a Littleton home for troubled adolescent males. Lane was removed as director of the facility after complaints were made by the state Department of Youth Services.
But Law met with Lane in May 1984 and again in January 1986, when Law named Lane pastor of Our Lady of Grace Church in Chelsea. Lane went on sick leave in 1993, and resumed ministry at a home for retired priests in the late 1990s before retiring in 1999.
Law met with Lane twice during the years he was on sick leave. To date, at least 17 men have accused Lane of sexually abusing them when they were minors.
Law's calendar shows he did not restrict his meetings with troubled priests to his residence or the chancery. Records show that he traveled at least twice to the state prison in Walpole to visit the Rev. John R. Hanlon, a convicted rapist.
Law also met with the following priests accused of sexual misconduct: the Revs. Ronald L. Bourgault, John M. Cotter, Gerard E. Creighton, William J. Cummings, Robert D. Fay, James D. Foley, James J. Foley, Peter J. Frost, Robert V. Gale, Daniel M. Graham, Harold J. Johnson, Dennis A. Keefe, Edward T. Kelley, Samuel J. Lombard, Paul J. Mahan, Jon C. Martin, Richard O. Matte, Edward C. McDonagh, Paul E. McDonald, Jay M. Mullin, Raymond C. Plourde, James F. Power, Redmond M. Raux, George J. Rosenkranz, William J. Scanlan, Paul R. Shanley, D. George Spagnolia, C. Melvin Surette, Paul J. Tivnan, Robert Towner, Robert A. Ward, and Paul D. White.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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