Cleric Had 2 Children, Kept Status

By Michael Rezendes and Stephen Kurkjian
Boston (MA) Globe
December 6, 2002

On Dec. 23, 1993, Cardinal Bernard F. Law heard an extraordinary admission: the Rev. James D. Foley, while a priest at St. Bartholomew Church in Needham during the 1960s, had fathered two children with a woman who later died of a drug overdose after going to bed with him.

The revelation came as the cardinal questioned Foley about reports that, while on loan to the Calgary diocese, he had had sexual relationships with two young married women.

Rev. James D. Foley (Globe Staff Photo / Tom Herde)

Law and a top deputy, Bishop John B. McCormack, were trying to decide whether Foley was fit to remain in public ministry. And, in the end, despite the reports of multiple affairs and Foley's admission that he had not promptly called for emergency medical help for the dying mother of his children, they decided he was.

Foley, indeed, remained in active ministry until yesterday afternoon, when, as church documents were released detailing his affairs, he was abruptly suspended as associate pastor at St. Joseph's Church in Salem, where he has worked the last five years.

''I am completely shocked,'' said the Rev. Lawrence J. Rondeau, the church pastor. ''He has been a perfect associate and I enjoyed working with him.'' Rondeau said the chancery never informed him of Foley's past problems, even though church records show Foley was suspended and then reassigned on the condition that he ''not enter a situation with women where there is the potential to be compromised.''

Earlier, in a Globe interview in the living room of his Danvers home, Foley admitted to the relationship with the woman who died. ''It's all true,'' he said.

The chancery's discovery of Foley's double life and Law's decision to allow him to continue working as an active priest are described in more than 100 pages of church records released yesterday in a lawsuit filed by alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.

The records, like thousands of pages of other church files released throughout the year, document compassionate treatment of a priest who admitted to sexual misconduct, and show that the practice of sheltering sexually abusive clergy by transferring them to other parishes or dioceses dates to the era of Cardinal Richard Cushing.

At a news conference yesterday, attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. said the records in Foley's case and others also demonstrate a double standard in the church's treatment of priests who sexually abused boys and those who took advantage of women. ''There was obviously a differentiation made between women and children,'' said MacLeish, of the Greenberg Traurig law firm, which represents nearly half of the 450 people with claims against the archdiocese.

In a deposition taken this year in the Shanley case, Law said he believes that sexual abuse of a minor is a ''far, far worse evil'' than the molestation of an adult. ''I find the evil of sexual abuse of a minor really qualitatively quite different and much more intense than that'' of an adult, he said.

Since February, the archdiocese has suspended 24 priests facing outstanding accusations of sexual misconduct with minors; one of the priests has been exonerated and reinstated. But it was unclear yesterday why Law allowed Foley to continue serving as an associate pastor.

Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, did not return calls seeking comment about Law's decision to allow Foley to remain in active ministry.

At his news conference, MacLeish cited a note written by McCormack saying the mother of Foley's children ''had a lobotomy'' as an indication that Foley might have been taking advantage of a mentally troubled woman.

MacLeish also criticized Law and McCormack, a seminary classmate of Foley's, for not informing law enforcement officials about the woman's death, even though notes of Law's meeting with Foley raise the possibility of what he called ''criminal activity.'' (See the notes.)

''There is no indication that when Cardinal Law and Bishop McCormack got this information that they did anything,'' MacLeish said. ''The police didn't get the full story.''

A spokeswoman for state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said yesterday that Reilly received a copy of the Foley file yesterday and is reviewing it, while a spokeswoman for Needham police declined to answer questions about the woman's death.

In his Globe interview yesterday, Foley at first denied any sexual involvement with women. But he then admitted to his affair with the woman who died of a drug overdose when he was shown a copy of a 1994 letter he wrote to McCormack in which he tried to assure McCormack the incident would never become public.

''Everything in the letter is true,'' Foley said.

In the letter, Foley strongly objected to an archdiosesan decision to remove him as pastor at Our Lady of Fatima Church in Sudbury, arguing that his affair with the deceased woman would not lead to scandal.

''While the circumstances of my first involvement are ugly and tragic, I cannot in my wildest imaginings understand how that can ever be made public,'' Foley wrote. ''How can the church suffer scandal from an episode that will never possibly be revealed?''

Notes from Foley's meeting with Law provide a chilling shorthand description of what happened: ''Had two children in '65 and relationships married women ... overdosed while he was present ... started to faint ... he clothed ... left came back ... called 911 ... she died ... a sister knows. ... Needham.''

Foley, in his interview, said he did not know his personnel records had been publicly released until he was told by a Globe reporter. He also insisted he should be allowed to remain in active ministry. ''Yes, I made mistakes when I was younger but I have led a proper, priestly life since then,'' he said. ''I should be judged by my whole career, not just what is spelled out in that letter.''

The Foley records released yesterday make it clear that top church officials as far back as the early 1960s were willing to give work to priests accused of sexual misconduct in other jurisdictions to avoid public scandal.

In a May 1966 letter to the Boston chancery reporting that Foley had disappeared from his Calgary parish in the company of a woman, Bishop Francis P. Carroll even said he would be willing to keep Foley in active ministry if he returned. ''I would be quite willing to take Father again if we can discover where he is,'' Carroll said. ''His problem is not known here.''

But in 1968, after a married woman's husband publicly accused Foley of having an affair with his wife, the administrator of the Calgary diocese wrote Cushing to say that the Boston Archdiocese would have to take Foley back. ''Father has been seriously involved with a young married woman (19 years of age) and had been contemplating leaving Calgary with her,'' the administrator said. ''There have been other complications with regard to this relationship, and there are indications that he has been involved with others. There has been considerable scandal.''

On his return to Boston, Foley was assigned to St. James Church in Haverhill, where church records show he became involved with another woman, and was later promoted to pastorships at St. Peter Church in Dorchester and Our Lady of Fatima in Sudbury.

The rediscovery of his sexual affairs was made in 1993 by Bishop Alfred C. Hughes, an aide to Law who is now the archbishop of the New Orleans arcdiocese, months after Law implemented a policy on clergy sexual abuse of minors. But the immediate impulse of McCormack, now bishop of the Manchester, N.H., diocese, was to forgive Foley's transgressions.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.