4 Case Studies

By Joseph Mallia
Long Island (NY) Newsday
February 10, 2003,0,4214248.story?coll=ny%2Dtop%2Dspan%2Dheadlines

Church documents filed in a Massachusetts court provide a glimpse into Bishop William F. Murphy's role in handling allegations of sexual abuse by priests. Here are some of the cases.

James Power

When it seemed a priest accused of child molestation would be left on his own as the only priest in a suburban Massachusetts parish, an aide to Bishop Murphy asked his superior in a June 16, 1997, memo whether it was wise to leave the priest unsupervised.

The Rev. James Power, the accused priest, would have to assume a full-time pastor's duties at the Wellesley, Mass., parish, which had an active youth ministry and other programs for children.

"Fr. Power had been investigated by this office for sexual misconduct,” the aide wrote to Murphy. "The question arises: Is the lack of immediate supervision a cause for concern? Personally, I don't think so. What do you think?”

In a handwritten notation, Murphy wrote: "Let him serve.”

The previous pastor had just left the Wellesley church and a replacement had not yet arrived, so Power's unsupervised status would be temporary, the aide noted.

In 1992, Power had been accused of sexually molesting a 13-year-old boy at night, inside the priest's van, on a camping trip in Maine in the 1980s, church records show. Power denied the accusation. The archdiocese paid the accuser a $35,000 settlement in June 1996 in exchange for his agreement to keep silent.

An undated, unsigned document in Power's file said: "100% positive other kids.” Power was removed Feb. 7, 2002, by Cardinal Bernard Law soon after a Massachusetts judge ordered church documents released to the public.

Dennis Keefe

After a Massachusetts priest, the Rev. Dennis Keefe, was accused in 1995 of a sexual attack on a 15-year-old altar boy, the then-Msgr. Murphy -- he was elevated to bishop later that year -- tried for several years to convince the priest to return to active ministry, church records show.

The priest maintained his innocence and refused for three years to follow routine church policy by going for a psychological assessment.

In a 1998 memo, Murphy then advised Boston's archbishop to tell the accused priest "that we are trying to resolve this issue by looking more deeply into the allegation itself to determine if perhaps there were elements that could lead us to rethink our current position vis-a-vis its credibility.”

Murphy also said the archdiocese might be able to re-evaluate the quality of the evidence against the priest. He suggested "reinterviewing the young man who is now three years older or making a clear -- determination of the extent to which this is a credible allegation,” his memo said. The boy stood by his story.

Church records also show that, after Keefe was removed for the alleged sexual assault, Murphy misled a parishioner about what happened, saying in a letter to the concerned churchgoer, "Father Keefe is taking some time off for personal and health reasons.” [This 1995 reply by Murphy to a parishioner complaining about Keefe's removal from a parish was posted by Newsday in a gallery to illustrate this story.]

Murphy also said in a 1997 memo that he "never really studied the file,” but "my understanding, however, is that the priest's alleged actions are not so grave as are those of others.” The archdiocese's staff psychotherapist disagreed: "The allegations in the case are serious. They involve genital touching, other ‘wrestling' and body contact and a request by the boy that the behavior stop,” Neil Hegarty said.

Murphy continued trying to bring Keefe back as an active priest, describing his efforts in a 1997 memo to Law: "I told him that you and I were most eager to try to resolve this and that I believed we could resolve the issue so that he could return to active service.” Keefe's powers to serve as priest were suspended in 1999 for refusing to go for counseling.

Jay Mullin

In an April 3, 1997, meeting with a priest accused of sexually molesting a high school-age boy, Murphy took a hard line, saying he had no chance of returning to active ministry.

The Rev. Jay Mullin had two choices, Murphy told him: Leave the priesthood or spend the rest of his life in the Boston archdiocese's supervised home for pedophile priests, far away from children, church records show.

In a memo to Law the day after his meeting with the priest, Murphy recapped his stern warnings. Mullin "could not get away from the reality that he is not someone that we could safely put back in parish ministry,” Murphy quoted himself as saying, adding that he said, "We could not take the risk to him or to people to consider parish ministry for him.”

Mullin had denied the accusation of sexual abuse, admitting only that he had wrestled with the teenager and pinched him. However, by December of the same year, the archdiocese had paid Mullin's accuser $60,000 -- including $10,000 of the priest's own money -- in a legal settlement.

A month after the settlement, Murphy was sent a memo saying Mullin was being sent back to work as an active priest in Wayland, Mass. On March 1, 1998, Mullin was back at work as a parish priest. And a May 12, 2000, memo advised Murphy that Mullin was being transferred to another parish, again as an active priest.

Church files contain no records to show whether Murphy or other administrators gave notice to parishioners that Mullin had been accused of molesting a child. Standard practice was not to inform parishioners, according to church records.

John K. Connell

The Rev. John K. Connell, a freshman religion teacher and chaplain, was removed from his job at St. John's Preparatory School near Boston on April 12, 1995, after accusations he had molested several boys in the 1970s at a vacation home on Cape Cod.

The archdiocese found the allegations credible, church records show. But two years later, Murphy was playing a role in the church's attempts to return the priest to active ministry, records show.

"At my most recent meeting with Bishop Murphy, he expressed a desire that we bring to resolution some kind of job description for Jack Connell and that he receive a letter of appointment to this position from the Cardinal,” said a May 1997 Boston memo from the Rev. Paul Miceli, the archdiocese secretary for ministerial support. "I apprised Bishop Murphy of our conversation with Jack.”

The archdiocese's reasoning, outlined in several memos, was that Connell could safely remain in the priesthood because, though he likely did sexually molest at least one boy in the 1970s, he did so because he had been an alcoholic. Church officials said Connell had been sober for 12 years.

Connell initially admitted to an investigator that he'd shared a bed with an accuser on Cape Cod, but after hiring a lawyer, he recanted several days later.

The archdiocese at first hoped to return Connell to the all-boy high school, but after it learned in 1997 of further allegations against him, church officials started looking for another job for him.

In June 1998, the archdiocese paid a $45,000 settlement to one of Connell's alleged victims.

Archdiocese records show Connell had once before been accused of sexual abuse, in 1983. He was removed May 23, 1983, as associate pastor of a Newton, Mass., parish, and was sent away for treatment. By Oct. 1, 1984, Connell was back working as an active priest, as a chaplain and teacher at St. John Preparatory's 175-acre campus north of Boston.

Connell remained a priest on active duty, as a consultant to the Priest Recovery Program, until Nov. 30, 2001, when, at 61, he was given retirement status.


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