September 23, 2019
By Amanda Milkovits
BRISTOL, R.I. — When the Rev. Barry Gamache arrived at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in early 1997, it had been a dozen years since a former longtime parish priest was hauled away for sexually abusing teenage boys.
The scandal caused by the Rev. William C. O’Connell had rocked this town’s oldest and largest Catholic parish and left its members feeling betrayed even a decade later.
Gamache, a plainspoken son of a commercial fisherman from Narragansett, said he knew what the parishioners of St. Mary’s needed to hear.
“I told people I would do everything to protect their children,” Gamache said.
And when the new priest needed someone to handle the church’s finances, he found a parishioner who was eager to help: David E. Barboza.
A Globe investigation this summer revealed that Barboza had been accused of sexual misconduct with three boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
Gamache said he was “surprised and hurt” by those revelations. Two other men have subsequently reported to the State Police that they were also victims, and still others have made similar allegations to the Globe.
“You read Facebook, everyone in town knew, but not a soul mentioned it to me,” Gamache said in an interview after a recent Sunday Mass. “You can quote me on that.”
But the Diocese of Providence’s own records, obtained by the Globe, tell a different story. So do people who say they warned Gamache and the diocese to keep Barboza away from children.
The diocese has since confirmed that it had previously investigated complaints about Barboza and said in a statement that it presented the results to “the pastor who maintains the day-to-day authority for parish administration,” meaning Gamache.
When shown the records in the interview after Mass, the priest then admitted that an investigator had in fact told him about the Barboza complaints over the years. But Gamache said the allegations “didn’t seem to be anything credible.”
The diocese and Gamache were first warned about Barboza in the fall of 1998, less than a year after the priest hired him, according to a transcript from the diocese obtained by the Globe.
A parishioner saw Barboza at the altar, dressed like a deacon, and recognized him as the former Bristol police officer who he said sexually assaulted him when he was an Eagle Scout in the 1970s.
The complaint was passed on to Gamache, who notified the investigator in the diocese’s Office of Compliance. The investigator told the parishioner that Gamache found it “somewhat difficult to believe” that Barboza would have done anything like that, according to the transcript of the interview with that parishioner.
The diocese recorded interviews with victims and witnesses in such inquiries and had them transcribed.
Barboza remained in his job, even as the diocese received more complaints over the next 21 years, allegations about behavior from before he worked for the church.
As the years went by, both Bishop Robert E. Mulvee and Bishop Thomas J. Tobin were notified about the investigations, according to transcripts of two interviews. But ultimately, the decision to keep Barboza at St. Mary’s came down to its priest.
And Gamache said he had no suspicions about Barboza, who resigned abruptly after the Globe investigation.
“If I had, I would have fired him,” Gamache said.
A bigger role at church
Throughout his adult life, Barboza, 64, was a prominent public official in Bristol: town councilman, police officer, investigator for the state fire marshal, volunteer firefighter, part of numerous boards and committees, wielding power with each.
Parishioners say it was no different at St. Mary’s Church, where Barboza became involved in and controlled many aspects of life at the parish. This was his family’s church, and even before he was hired, Barboza volunteered as a eucharistic minister, visiting the sick and elderly.
Gamache, known as “Father Barry,” said he hired Barboza to handle the church’s finances and run the cemetery. He said Barboza wasn’t involved in youth programs and had “no reason to be in contact with children.”
Several parishioners said otherwise.
One who worried about Barboza’s proximity to children in the church, particularly the altar boys with him at Mass, was the first to warn the diocese.
The man, who is now 58, sat down with the Globe recently, along with his wife, to talk about what he said happened to him in the summer of 1976. His story was consistent with what he told the diocese’s investigator on Oct. 11, 1998, according to the diocese transcript, which uses his name. The Globe does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission.
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