‘Obviously, I believed the wrong person’: R.I. priest defends decision not to fire church employee accused of child molestation

Boston Globe

September 25, 2019

By Amanda Milkovits

BRISTOL, R.I. — The parish priest at St. Mary’s Church on Tuesday defended his decision not to fire a church administrator who was accused of child molestation and questioned why others in the town also put their faith in the accused, David E. Barboza.

“I mean, they voted for him. They elected him to office, they supported his involvement with the fire department, the Rotary, the Democratic council,” the Rev. Barry Gamache said, referring to the Bristol Democratic Town Committee. “They say, ‘You trusted him.’ — It would appear the entire town trusted him.”

He spoke in a phone interview with the Globe, after a story this week that looked at what Gamache and the Diocese of Providence knew about the allegations against Barboza.

Gamache was also confronted after Mass Tuesday morning by the parishioner who’d been the first to warn the diocese about Barboza, more than 20 years ago.

The man said he’d waited all this time for the priest to fire Barboza and acknowledge he’d made a mistake in hiring him.

When the priest apologized to him after Mass, the man said, “I told him, ‘It’s too late, Father. The warnings were there, and you did nothing.’ ”

The Globe does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission.

Gamache was a new priest at St. Mary’s when he hired Barboza as an administrator in November 1997. The priest received his first complaint about Barboza less than a year later.

The parishioner who was the first to warn the diocese told an investigator that Barboza had sexually assaulted him in 1976, when he was a 14-year-old Eagle Scout and Barboza was a Bristol police officer, the Globe reported this week.

Another Bristol man told the diocese investigator that Barboza had molested him at a fire station in the early 1970s, when he was 6 and Barboza was a volunteer firefighter. His allegations were reported in an earlier Globe story.

While the criminal statute of limitations expired in both cases, the diocese was also told about Barboza’s arrest in 1982, when he was charged with soliciting a 14-year-old boy while working for the state fire marshal’s office. That case was dismissed and never refiled.

The diocese said that its investigator, retired Massachusetts State Police lieutenant Robert N. McCarthy, looked into those complaints and presented the results to Gamache several times over the last 20 years.

But the priest said Tuesday that McCarthy’s “summary” wasn’t as convincing as what Barboza told him.

“David just explained everything away so perfectly,” Gamache said. “Unfortunately, I gave more credibility to him than McCarthy. It’s just that David had a much better explanation.”

The priest said he didn’t recall much of the explanation. Although the investigator developed a thick file on Barboza, Gamache said he never saw the depositions.

Barboza abruptly resigned July 31 after the initial Globe investigation was published.

Since then, a 45-year-old parishioner with mental disabilities has also come forward with allegations that Barboza opened the man’s pants on several occasions when the man was seeking clothing from the church.

Another parishioner who accused Barboza of raping him when he was a boy in the mid-1970s said Monday that he told Gamache about the abuse in 2017. Robert Powers, 54, filed a lawsuit against Barboza last December.

Gamache disputed that account on Tuesday, saying Powers didn’t tell him anything about Barboza. The priest said that the 45-year-old parishioner also never said anything to him.

Gamache said he kept his word by protecting the children at St. Mary’s.

“I do believe him,” Gamache said about the 45-year-old parishioner’s accusation. “But we’re not talking about pedophilia. That’s the difference. I said I would protect the children. I can’t protect every adult in Bristol.”

The first man to come forward to the diocese, said he approached Gamache after Mass on Tuesday, because he wanted to ask Gamache why he didn’t believe those who warned him about Barboza.

He said he followed the priest into a small side room that’s part of the church. Gamache was alone, so the man said he sat down with him.

“I said, ‘How did you dismiss all those people’s reports to you about Mr. Barboza’s behavior? You dismissed it as small town hearsay?’ ” the man told the Globe. “I said, ‘I made a sworn deposition to the diocese, and Mr. McCarthy even approached you.’ . . . I said, ‘All I wanted was him removed from the altar and not to have contact with children.’ ”

The man said that Gamache apologized several times. “I said, ‘Father, ”sorry” is too late now,’ ” he said.

The man said he told Gamache that, as the priest, he needed to address the parish. “I said, ‘There’s a whole lot of parishioners out there who are looking for answers.’ ”

Gamache confirmed that he and the man spoke after Mass, and that he apologized, saying he would “pray on” the man’s request to address the parishioners of St. Mary’s at some point about the allegations. Gamache has been scheduled for hip surgery on Wednesday and plans return Nov. 1.

“I haven’t thought what to say, besides apologizing,” Gamache said. “Obviously, I believed the wrong person, but I did it with a clear conscience.”

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