Man Sues Priest's Estate, Claiming Abuse

By Marie Szaniszlo
Boston Herald
February 5, 2001

A Sherborn man is seeking more than $1 million from the estate of his dead uncle, a popular priest who allegedly molested him and two young cousins more than 30 years ago.

In a lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the nephew, now 46, accuses the late Rev. William H. Morgan of sexually abusing him from the time he was about three until he was about 12, while the priest was assigned to St. John's parish in Canton.

During that period, the suit alleges, Morgan was a "constant presence" who visited his nephew's house at least once a week and took the youngster for his first haircut at the age of 2.

Having cultivated a reputation as "patriarch of the family" and "messenger of God," the priest abused his nephew's trust, the suit claims, by picking him up from home and school and taking him to the homes of other parishioners, "ostensibly to assist with an errand."

Then, the nephew alleges, after they had left, his uncle would tell him to "lie down for a nap."

In one instance, in the fall of 1967, the nephew's parents went away for the weekend and arranged for him to stay with his uncle at St. John's rectory, where the priest allegedly molested him.

The lawsuit alleges that Morgan had sexually assaulted at least one other child, not identified in the suit.

But although the priest's supervisor "knew ... (he) ... was a pedophile," it alleges, the unidentified supervisor "took no action."

The allegations, which attorneys for Morgan's estate deny, are the latest in a series of sex-abuse complaints that have shadowed the Roman Catholic Church in recent years and raised questions about its handling of such cases.

Nationwide, the church has been forced to pay tens of millions of dollars to the alleged victims of priests like John J. Geoghan, who was defrocked in 1998 in the wake of allegations that he molested more than 50 children in the Greater Boston area, and James R. Porter, who is serving 18 to 20 years in prison for abusing nearly 100 youngsters in New Bedford, Fall River and North Attleboro.

In Morgan's case, an anonymous letter about the priest led to an archdiocesan probe in 1992.

But even after he admitted molesting two other young relatives - both cousins - about 30 years earlier, Morgan apparently never underwent treatment. Also, the archdiocese never followed a recommendation that it assign him a monitor, according to a 1998 report filed by the archdiocese's own social worker.

"At the time that these episodes were revealed, Father Morgan wrote letters of apology to both of his cousins," the social worker wrote. "He expressed sorrow, shame and embarassment about having 'crossed the line into an area that should have been sacred and respected.'"

As a youngster, Morgan also had been sexually abused by an alcoholic uncle, the report said, and early in his ministry he had had a sexual relationship with another priest.

In March 1993, the archdiocese's review board, enforcing the requirements of a new church policy, recommended that Morgan step down as pastor, the social worker wrote.

Morgan eventually resigned and retired to his family home in Gloucester.

One of the two cousins the priest admitted molesting has been in therapy for five years, at a cost to the archdiocese of more than $40,000, according to the social worker's report.

The same report alludes to efforts by the archdiocese to severe this financial arrangement, and threats by one or both cousins to go public with the priest's alleged abuse.

According to the lawsuit, Morgan's nephew repressed memories of his own abuse until 1998.

The following year, Morgan died at the age of 79 after serving in several other parishes, including Holy Trinity in Boston, St. Paul's in Hingham, St. Francis in Medford, St. John the Evangelist in Winthrop and St. Thomas More in Braintree.

Nearly 1,000 of his former parishioners attended the funeral of the man they knew as "Father Bill."

"He's a legend around here," said a member of St. John's Parish in Canton, who asked that his name not be used. "He's the one priest from years ago that people still talk about as if he just left yesterday ... People only talk about him in glowing terms."

A few months after Morgan's death, his nephew sued the priest's sister and guardian of his estate, Gertrude Geran, as well as his former supervisor, identified in court papers only as "Defendant Two" because the nephew has yet to determine his name.

In his suit, the nephew claims the abuse he allegedly endured led to a series of psychiatric problems, including borderline personality disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and bipolar disorder, or manic depression.

The nephew claims he endured "long agonizing periods of severe depression" that interfered with his relationships and caused him to drop out of college, drink and indulge "uncontrollable spending habits" which led him to amass debts of more than $32,000.

Eventually, he claims, he lost his job, rendering him homebound for a year after his memory of the alleged abuse first resurfaced in 1998.

"Rev. Morgan's acts upon me destroyed vast aspects of my self- image and resulted in self-loathing and a deep grief and sadness," he said in court papers. "Nothing in my life was unscathed."

Catherine Henry, an attorney for Morgan's estate, called the allegations baseless charges brought by "one angry, disenfranchised nephew."

"To date, there's been no credible evidence to support these allegations," Henry said. "This suit was brought after the man died so that he can't defend himself."

Archdiocesan spokesman John Walsh would not comment on this case.

"The archdiocese has an extensive set of policies and procedures which have come out of the situation regarding sexual abuse," Walsh said. "But particular cases I'm afraid we cannot make a comment."


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