Charges Dropped, New Ones Added in Cleric Abuse Cases

By Tom Mashberg and David Weber
Boston Herald
February 5, 2003

Suffolk County prosecutors yesterday agreed to drop more than 20 indictments against a religious brother and a priest accused of sexual assault, then announced new indictments against the brother and vowed to prosecute both clerics on any new and remaining counts.

The indictments abandoned by the office of District Attorney Daniel F. Conley related to crimes that lawyers for the two clergymen argued were not on the books in Massachusetts at the time they were allegedly committed.

Appearing before Suffolk Superior Court Judge Peter M. Lauriat, Assistant District Attorney Audrey C. Mark agreed the jettisoned indictments violated ex post facto - after the fact - provisions of the Constitution.

In the case of Franciscan Brother Fidelis DeBerardinis, 75, Conley's office went along with a motion by the accused's lawyers - Daniel J. Dwyer, Timothy P. O'Neill and Sharon H. Patton of Hanify and King - to dismiss all 19 indictments against him.

Nine were dismissed because their statutes were not enacted until 1974 while the acts are alleged to have occurred in the late 1960s.

The other 10 indictments were abandoned, Conley's office said, because there was fear they "might have been tainted" because of confusion among the grand jurors.

However, on Monday, DeBerardinis was indicted on eight revised counts - three of unnatural and lascivious acts on a child under 16, and five of indecent assault and battery on a child under 16.All involved alleged acts against the same minor in the 1960s, and each count carries a maximum five years in prison.

Conley's spokesman, David Procopio, said the new counts carried "less severe penalties" than the original ones, some of which held life sentences. But he said the office would press aggressively with prosecution. DeBerardinis, who is free on bail and was in court yesterday, is scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow in Suffolk Superior Court on the new charges.

At the same hearing, a total of five counts of indecent assault and battery on a person over age 14 were let go against the Rev. James F. Talbot, a former Boston College High School wrestling coach.

Those crimes were alleged to have occurred in the 1970s, but the statutes were enacted in 1980.

Talbot is still facing two more serious counts of rape, and assault with attempt to rape. Out on bail, he is set to appear for a new bail motion in Suffolk Superior Feb. 11.

Separately yesterday, attorney Mitchell Garabedian made public under court order a deposition of Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis., conducted June 4.

Questioned about his handling of defrocked and convicted child molester John J. Geoghan, Banks admitted knowing about Geoghan's acts in the mid-1980s. But asked if he ever sought to contact the victims, Banks, a former personnel chief under Bernard Cardinal Law, said, "No, I didn't."

In District Court in Manchester, N.H., meanwhile, a man arrested Sunday for protesting against Bishop John B. McCormack outside St. Catherine's Church was arraigned on a disorderly conduct charge.

Rick D. Webb of Natick, representing himself, pleaded not guilty to the Class A misdemeanor.

He is free pending an April 8 court date, but was ordered to remain 20 yards from St. Catherine's.


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