Priest Recalls Indecision about Reporting Alleged Abuse
June 18, 1994
The pastor of a Roman Catholic church in Woburn yesterday told a packed and tense courtroom how he had surprised his fellow priest in the midst of what he believed was the sexual abuse of a boy.
In testimony that underscored his indecision over reporting the alleged incident, Rev. Paul Sughrue testified that he had forced himself to investigate when he thought a child was in distress and then hesitated to confront fellow priest Rev. Paul Manning or notify authorities.
Father Sughrue testified on the second day of the child molestation trial of Father Manning, 53, who is accused of indecently assaulting an 11-year-old altar boy in the rectory of St. Charles Church last fall. Since the boy has refused to testify, Father Sughrue is the prosecution's key witness.
Under questioning by Assistant District Attorney Martha Coakley, Father Sughrue related how on the evening of last Sept. 5, he had come back to the rectory and heard the screams of a boy coming from Father Manning's third-floor quarters.
"I heard five distinct screams," Father Sughrue said in a near monotone. "They were horrifying. They were pain-filled screams. . . . They demanded attention." The screams, he said, "emanated from the third floor and I recognized the voice as belonging to the alleged victim."
Father Sughrue testified that he knew Father Manning had taken the boy under his wing. Other testimony yesterday showed that the boy, a native of Puerto Rico, was having trouble in school because he knew little English. Father Manning, who had studied Spanish, was devoting much of his time to ministering to Hispanic members of the parish.
As he stood in the second-floor hallway, Father Sughrue testified, "I contemplated the number of screams and the way they registered . . . one upon the other. I felt I would be acting in an irresponsible fashion if I did not investigate."
When he "ascended the stairwell," and halted near the top, he said he saw two pairs of bare legs intertwined "braid-like," with the adult apparently reclining on a chair and the child on top of him. He said he was sure in his mind that the adult was Father Manning.
"I felt shock and concern," Father Sughrue said.
He went to his study, he said, but returned immediately to the place near the top of the stairs and still saw the same scene. He then went to his quarters. "I was thinking that what I had seen clearly demanded a response," he testified.
Father Sughrue said he wrote a letter to Father Manning in which he reminded him of the emotional issue of priests and child abuse and asked him not have any more visitors.
He did not mail the letter, however. After consulting a relative who is a judge in Maine, he went on a weekend trip with fellow priests in New Hampshire.
On Sept. 7 he tried to speak to someone at the archdiocese's office but didn't reach anyone until the following day when he spoke with Rev. John McCormick, the archdiocese's administrative secretary.
Father McCormick spoke with Father Manning on Sept. 9.The next day, Father Sughrue spoke with Father Manning about what he had seen.
Father Manning went on a leave of absence six days after the alleged incident. Woburn police were not notified until Oct. 8, and no explanation has been offered for the delay.
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