Guilty of Rape, Priest Got Church Post in N.J.
After serving for seven years in four parishes in the Diocese of Metuchen, N.J., Father O'Sullivan was recalled to Boston last July and ordered to refrain from all ministry, apparently as a result of church officials' review of how they had handled past sexual abuse cases in the archdiocese, it was learned this week.
The fact that top church officials in Boston approved the priest's assignment to ordinary parish ministry, including youth work, and that pastors of three of the four New Jersey parishes say they were never told of his criminal record, has outraged the prosecutor in the case.
In putting the priest on five years of probation, Superior Judge Walter E. Steele had specifically requested that Father O'Sullivan be assigned "where he has no contact with young people."
"This is mind-boggling," said George Murphy, the assistant Middlesex County district attorney who sought a three to five-year jail term in the case, when told this week of Father O'Sullivan's New Jersey postings. "We were told he would be removed as a priest."
There does not appear to be any evidence that Father O'Sullivan molested children in New Jersey, but church officials there said this week that they should have been told of the priest's history. Parish officials in Metuchen said they have no record that the Boston Archdiocese informed them of the rape conviction and conditions of parole.
John Walsh, a spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said church officials here have records showing that then Bishop Theodore E. McCarrick of the Metuchen Diocese "was informed of the nature of the case when Father O'Sullivan moved to New Jersey in October, 1985." But Walsh said the records do not show that the communication was in writing.
Bishop McCarrick, who has since been elevated to archbishop of Newark, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to Murphy, Father O'Sullivan was the first Massachusetts priest to be convicted in a sexual abuse case.
Walsh said Father O'Sullivan currently "is not practicing any ministry, and is under those kind of restrictions," urged by the trial judge in 1984.
That was not the case for most of his five-year probation.
After completing treatment at a Catholic mental-health institution for priests following his conviction, Father O'Sullivan was sent to a New Jersey parish with an elementary school in October 1985.
Such clergy transfers are always approved by the top officials of the sending and receiving dioceses, then Cardinal Bernard F. Law, archbishop of Boston, and Bishop McCarrick of Metuchen.
In subsequent assignments to three more New Jersey parishes, Father O'Sullivan was involved in parish ministries including religious education programs for children and a youth group.
Pastors of three of the four New Jersey parishes - who were the church officials directly responsible for his supervision - said this week that they were never told Father O'Sullivan had a history of sexual abuse or that he was on probation.
Rev. Charles O'Connor, the personnel officer for the Metuchen Diocese, said there is no record of the probation or of sexual abuse charges in Father O'Sullivan's personnel file in Metuchen. "I feel we should have been given much more information," he said in an interview. Walsh, Cardinal Law's spokesman, said that church officials "have learned by very painful experience that we have to be much more vigorous and vigilant in the handling of abuse cases and complaints."
"That is why we had the very extensive review of past files and why we undertook of a much more comprehensive set of procedures, which includes creation of a review board to look at all complaints and how they are disposed of," he said.
Murphy said that after Father O'Sullivan's conviction in 1984, "I received letters from a number of individuals who said they were altar boys at Sacred Heart Parish in Waltham and the same thing happened to them . . . I made calls to the diocese and received no response."
Walsh said the archdiocese did respond to Murphy, but would not characterize the reply.
The prosecutor said the victim in the Arlington case was "a psychological mess."
Father O'Sullivan pleaded guilty to a charge of having "unlawful sexual intercourse or unnatural sexual intercourse" with a male child under 16. Those offenses began when his victim was 13 and continued over a two-year period.
A statement released by the archdiocese after the sentencing offered
sympathy for the victim and his family and promised to "cooperate
in every way with the judicial decision."
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