Civil Suit Alleges '70s Abuse by Priest

By Tom Farmer and Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
March 29, 2002

A North Shore priest is accused in a civil lawsuit of molesting a 12-year-old boy during a 1970s trip to Florida and visits to a Plymouth home.

The Rev. John K. Connell spent a week with the boy in the same Sarasota motel room in 1975 or 1976 during a Florida trip by parishioners of St. Mark's Church in Dorchester, according to the suit filed Wednesday in Middlesex Superior Court that also names as defendants the Archdiocese of Boston and Bernard Cardinal Law.

Connell was removed as chaplain at St. John's Preparatory School by the archdiocese in 1994 after church officials received a complaint against him alleging sexual misconduct, St. John's Prep's current and previous headmasters said yesterday. The alleged abuse occurred prior to Connell's 1984 appointment to the Danvers high school, the headmasters said.

Attorney Jeffrey A. Newman, who represents the plaintiff in the suit, said he believes the archdiocese has received multiple complaints of sexual abuse involving Connell, who was personally recommended for the St. John's Prep post in a handwritten 1984 letter by Law.

Sources said Connell's name is on a list of at least 50 present and former priests accused of sexual misconduct that was turned over to state investigators by the archdiocese.

"I am extremely interested to know from the archdiocese the extent of their knowledge and whether or not Cardinal Law was aware of any allegations before he signed the letter recommending Connell to St. John's Prep," said Newman.

A church investigator identified by Newman as the Rev. David White told Newman's client the archdiocese had received other complaints involving Connell, the attorney said.

"I hope they will be forthright with all the information so the truth will come out," Newman said.

The archdiocese did not comment yesterday. And Connell, who according to a relative is living in Revere, also could not be reached for comment.

Connell was ordained in 1965 and was a chaplain at Harvard University from 1967 to 1969, according to his resume.

From 1969 to 1980, he was assigned to St. Mark's in Dorchester, where Newman's client alleges Connell plied him with liquor and molested him on five or six occasions at a home in Plymouth, in addition to the alleged abuse in Florida.

According to St. John's Prep headmaster Dr. Albert J. Shannon, Connell's personnel file includes a Sept. 18, 1984 letter from Law on his personal stationery notifying then-headmaster Brother Edward Keefe that the "personnel board of the archdiocese" was appointing Connell as the school's chaplain.

Shannon said Connell remained chaplain and taught some freshman religion classes until 1994, when then-headmaster Brother William Drinan was notified by Bishop William Murphy that Connell was being removed from St. John's Prep because an allegation of sexual abuse from the 1970s had been made against him.

"Brother Drinan asked if there was anything the Prep needed to do and he was told no," said Shannon. "Then (Drinan) asked Bishop Murphy if there was anything he needed to do to follow up on it and he was again told no."

Shannon said no allegations of sexual abuse have been made against anyone connected to St. John's, including Connell.

"There's nothing in (Connell's personnel file) that would tell us anything was going on at the Prep," said Shannon, who added the school's policy will be to vigorously investigate any allegation of abuse and to immediately notify the proper authorities under the school's responsibility as a mandatory reporter.

Sources said Connell also had alcohol-related issues with the church and Shannon said he was attending Alcoholics Anonymous while assigned to St. John's Prep.

Sources said yesterday that Connell currently holds no assignment with the archdiocese, although he has been listed as assigned to the Clergy Personnel Office from 1995 to 2002.


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