Boston Man: Abuse Part of Brother's Broken Life

By Peter Gelzinis
Boston Herald
April 28, 2002

It is not about apologies. No apology will ever reunite Kevin McDonough with his brother Billy.

Nor is it a matter of money. Jean McDonough and her two sons already have been compensated for their pain and suffering . . . twice. Once by the Order of St. Francis; and once by the Archdiocese of Boston.

But if apologies and money could heal all the wounds and numb all the pain, maybe Jean McDonough would not be in a hospital right now. And perhaps her son, Kevin, would not be buffeted by an aching restlessness, nearly eight years after he found his older brother dead on a couch.

"To be honest, I've always had a problem talking about it," Kevin said recently. "I don't like talking about it now. But with all this stuff going on again, I just feel like I owe it to my brother."

The story begins when Jean McDonough's husband succumbs to chronic asthma at 35. She's left to raise two boys in a Hyde Park housing project. Billy, the oldest, follows friends to Christopher Columbus Catholic High School in the North End.

Jean works two jobs and eventually sends both Billy and Kevin to Columbus. Against the public school turbulence of the '70s, the young widow is sure she's harbored her boys in sound academics and spiritual values. She is also comforted by a paternal-like bond which develops between her small family and a Franciscan brother, Kenneth Ghastin.

In 1975, Billy McDonough graduates from Columbus. Little more than a year later, he tells his mother of his struggles with heroin and the pain killer Percoset. He will clean himself up long enough to join the Merchant Marine. But two years later, he'll lose his job after a near fatal overdose in Holland.

"We were living in Weymouth then," Kevin McDonough recalled, "and Billy OD'd again. When they rushed him to South Shore Hospital, the doctor told me to go home and get a camera. I thought he was crazy, but I did it. He took a picture of my brother with all the tubes in him . . . on life support, basically."

When he emerged from a two-week coma, Billy used that picture to inspire himself on a journey of sobriety that spanned almost nine years. He found friendship and sanctuary in the 12 Steps of A.A. "He'd go to meetings seven days a week, no matter where he was," Kevin recalled.

Billy even went on to counsel HIV-infected addicts who found their way to Seton Manor, the Brighton shelter run by the archdiocese. Through his work there, McDonough met Bernard Cardinal Law on numerous occasions.

By this time, Kevin had married and divorced. Yet life appeared to be falling into place for Billy. In 1990, Columbus High closed, the building sold for condos. "My brother and I were living together in '92," Kevin said, "when all the stuff about Fr. (James) Porter started coming out real heavy.

"Billy began going wacky," Kevin said. "I knew he had to be using again. I come home from work one day and I hear him crying like a baby in his room. 'Billy, what's the matter?' I asked him.

"He looks at me and he says, 'Kevin, it was that bleeping Brother Ghastin, he molested me back at Columbus.' "

In that moment, Kevin McDonough instinctively blurted out his own confession. " 'Billy,' I said, 'he tried the same thing with me.' That only made the pain worse for my brother. He started screaming: 'I should have told you years ago. I should have saved you.' "

Kevin McDonough told his brother about an encounter that took place in his bedroom, during one of the Wednesday night dinner visits Brother Kenneth made to the McDonough home.

"My mother had gone out to the store," Kevin recalled, "he starts grabbing me and saying my mother asked him to teach me about sex. 'Don't worry,' he says, 'I did the same thing with your brother.' I found out later, he'd been letting my brother drink wine in the friary across from the school."

On top of the secrets, there was reality. In 1992, Billy learned that Brother Kenneth was teaching in a suburban Catholic school. When he drove out to confront him, Kevin had his brother arrested.

In the spring of 1994, the McDonough family settled with the Fransicans and the archdiocese. Though both groups denied all liability, the Fransicans offered their "pastoral support" to heal any wounds. Kevin can still remember the "nice conversations" his mother had on the phone with Cardinal Law.

Settling the case, however, did not tame the demons that tormented Billy McDonough. When a close friend from A.A. once asked why he was so intent on killing himself, Billy replied: "It's the only way I can get to sleep at night."

Billy was 35 when he died with a needle in his arm in December 1994. He was buried with his Dad, who died at the same age.

"After Billy was gone," Kevin McDonough said, "we never heard from Cardinal Law, or anybody from the archdiocese again."


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