Lennon Tied to Priest Probe; Foster Case Memo Shows Bishop Was at Meeting

By Robin Washington and Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
December 26, 2002

Church records show Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the interim leader of the Archdiocese of Boston, attended a two-hour meeting on the fate of an accused priest - even though Lennon publicly denied having any role in the case.

A memo in the file of Msgr. Michael Smith Foster places Lennon and six other clerics at a Sept. 13 meeting "to discuss new allegations against (Foster) of sexual misconduct with a minor."

The meeting, at the cardinal's residence, ran from 1:30 to 3:30 p.m. and ended with "a recommendation to His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law to reopen the sexual misconduct preliminary investigation against (Foster) in light of the new evidence," the memo states.

But Lennon, in his first meeting with reporters, broadcast on live television Dec. 18, distanced himself from the Foster investigation.

"The work with the allegations and those who are working with them - on those matters I have had no involvement at all," Lennon said when asked by the Herald for the reason behind Foster's reinstatement.

After a follow-up question, Lennon said the investigators' "procedures, their policies, the way they do things, I have never been involved in that, sir."

Foster, the archdiocese's chief canon lawyer, is the only Boston priest suspended in the past year over abuse allegations who has been reinstated.

His case has been criticized by victims' rights advocates who say the probe was based on unsubstantiated attacks on the credibility of Foster's accuser, Paul R. Edwards of Winchendon.

Foster, who has steadfastly maintained his innocence, was cleared of the accusation by the church on Oct. 30. In August, Edwards had filed suit alleging abuse by Foster and another priest, the late Rev. William J. Cummings.

Edwards withdrew his suit days later after supporters of Foster suggested Edwards had lied about his life and career - assertions later found to have little merit.

But on Sept. 12, the case was reignited when Edwards met with church investigators for the first and only time to state his accusations in person against Foster and Cummings.

The next day, in the meeting attended by Lennon, church officials reopened the probe.

Foster's personnel file, released under court order as part of the discovery process in the Rev. Paul R. Shanley case, contains 400 pages on the case but does not offer a reason for Foster's final reinstatement.

At the press conference, Lennon failed to explain the church's findings in the case; archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said the findings would remain secret.

"We don't discuss canonical investigations except to say this case is closed (and) we found the allegations to be unsubstantiated," she said.

Asked to explain the inconsistency between Lennon's comments and the church files, she said: "My interpretation of the question that was asked was that it was on the overall process on the reinstatement."

But members of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, who attended and watched the live broadcast, say it was clear to them Lennon failed to address the reinstatement and was less than forthcoming about his involvement in the probe.

"In just a few short days on the job . . . his veracity has been called into question," the group said in a statement.

"We feel it is imperative that Bishop Lennon publicly explain this disturbing discrepancy, in the interest of true healing."

The SNAP statement, which repeated the group's earlier call for the Foster case to be reopened, also chastised Lennon for inviting Foster to concelebrate Lennon's first public Mass on Dec. 15.

The group called the appearance "at best, insensitive, and at worst, a chilling message to survivors."

Joining SNAP in criticizing the archdiocese's handling of the Foster affair is an unlikely ally: Another accused clergyman - one whose fate has yet to be decided.

In the file of the Rev. Edward McDonagh, who was removed in May from St. Ann's parish in West Bridgewater for the alleged abuse of a now-deceased man 38 years ago, lawyer David Sorrenti complains of a "double standard" in the treatment of Foster versus his client.

"There is certainly no excuse or explanation for treating these men differently. Why was the (initial) Foster investigation completed within a week while Father McDonagh's investigation continues to drag on?" Sorrenti wrote church investigators.

"Indeed, one could certainly argue that the allegations made against Foster and Cummings, regardless of the fact that they were (initially) recanted, were more credible than the allegation made against Father McDonagh. The former allegation was at least made by an individual that is alive, the latter is not."

Among key records missing from Foster's file are minutes of the archdiocese's clergy Review Board, a body charged with deciding the fate of accused priests that Lennon and Morrissey said voted to clear him.

Morrissey declined to elaborate or even disclose the identities of board members, saying, "We have not in the past released the names of the people on the Review Board in order to maintain the integrity of (their) work."

But questioning that thinking was David Finkelhor, a noted University of New Hampshire researcher and member of the Commission for the Protection of Children, which recently drafted a new child molestation prevention policy for the archdiocese.

"I can't imagine why they would be unknown," he said. "It was always my understanding they would be public. That was one of the things (the commission recommended) that needed prompt action."


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