Boy Says He Falsely Accused Priest

By Michael Grunwald
Boston Globe
October 19, 1994

Breaking his silence on a case that pitted men of the cloth against each other and devastated a Woburn church, a 12-year-old altar boy told "Dateline NBC" that police pressured him into falsely accusing a priest of sexually assaulting him in the church rectory last September.

Rev. Paul Manning, the former associate pastor of St. Charles Borromeo Church in Woburn, was acquitted of sexual assault charges in June after jurors deliberated for 15 hours. The alleged victim did not testify in court, but Rev. Paul Sughrue, pastor of the Catholic church, testified that he saw two pairs of intertwined naked legs moving rhythmically together on a recliner after hearing "pain-filled screams" coming from Father Manning's study.

In an interview with NBC correspondent Dennis Murphy that aired last night, the boy corroborated Father Manning's claim that the two had been "horsing around," and said Father Manning never touched him in a sexual way. The boy said he originally made accusations under pressure from police, but recanted after his mother told him to tell the truth.

"Nothing happened," said the boy, whose face was silhouetted throughout the interview. "They were pushing me to say yes. And so if I wanted them to leave me alone I said yes . . . I was scared."

Jill Reilly, a spokeswoman for the Middlesex district attorney's office, said police did not pressure the boy at all.

"It's obvious that this child has had difficulty with this entire episode," she said. "We don't want to comment further and make it any worse."

Murphy spoke with Father Manning, Middlesex prosecutors, nine jurors, Judge Robert A. Barton and many of Father Manning's supporters. Father Sughrue, who made the original allegations, refused to be interviewed for the program.

Assistant District Attorney Martha Coakley, the lead prosecutor in the case, told Murphy she had no regrets about pressing charges against Father Manning.

"If nothing happened, that's probably what the boy would have told us initially," she said. " 'Nothing happened. You're mistaken.' It's not what he said originally."

Publicly describing the evening of Sept. 5, 1993, for the first time, the boy said he and Manning were wrestling in the study.

"We were fighting, I was trying to get away from him, and he grabbed my shoes and he grabbed my shirt and my pants," the boy said. "As I was pulling away there was a time my shirt and pants were coming off."

Last night's program aired footage from the trial, from Father Sughrue's allegations that he saw the boy's underwear being pulled up over his legs, to a criminologist's testimony that he found semen on the recliner, to Father Manning's description of how he grabbed the boy and held his ankles. Murphy said Father Sughrue's story "became tangled," and pointed out discrepancies between his testimony and two memos he wrote the night of the incident.

Middlesex District Attorney Thomas Reilly said in June that the boy did not testify because his parents felt it was not in his best interests.


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