Priest Accused in Fondling Is Defrocked by Vatican

By Ralph Ranalli
Boston Globe
June 2, 2004

Robert V. Meffan, who as a priest said he sexually touched girls studying to be nuns to teach them to love Christ "as a human being" and who was later called mentally unbalanced by one church official, has been stripped of his priestly status by the Vatican, a spokesman for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston said yesterday.

Archdiocesan records show that church officials received a number of complaints against Meffan from young nuns in training, who said he fondled them while urging them to imagine that they were making love to Jesus Christ.

Meffan also told archdiocesan officials in the mid-1980s that he had been given a special mission directly by God that he was bound to keep secret, even from his superiors, which precluded him from taking regular assignments. Meffan's contention about his secret mission prompted a top aide to Cardinal Bernard F. Law to suggest in 1984 that Meffan was mentally unbalanced, church records show.

A statement issued by the archdiocese yesterday did not elaborate on the reasons for the Vatican action, except to say that the 75-year-old Meffan, who has been on retired status since 1996, "is no longer to be referred to as a priest nor to exercise sacramental ministry, as he does not have the faculties of the Church."

"We received a notice from Rome that he is no longer a priest," said the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese. "Obviously it was connected with the allegations that were made against him."

Church records show that archdiocesan officials received their first complaint against Meffan in 1980 and that he met with Law twice in 1984, including once after he had confided that he had a secret mission.

But Meffan was not suspended from parish work until two more complaints were lodged against him in 1993, which prompted lawyers for his alleged victims to charge that the church was too slow in dealing with an obvious problem.

Law met with Meffan again on June 14, 1996, according to the cardinal's calendar, and granted him "senior priest/retirement status" three days later.

"They had indications in 1980, and he is being defrocked in 2004?" said lawyer Jeffrey Newman, whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represented hundreds of clergy sexual abuse victims in last year's historic $85 million settlement with the archdiocese. "While it's good that the Vatican is being forced to look at these issues, it's very late."

Coyne declined to address the complaint that church officials were slow to deal with Meffan.

A woman who answered the telephone at Meffan's Carver residence declined to speak to the Globe yesterday. "We have no comment, thank you," she said.

During a 1993 Review Board evaluation, Meffan said that if he touched anyone "on any sexual parts, it was accidental," and he acknowledged that he had been hugged around his legs by a kneeling female.

But in a telephone interview with the Globe 18 months ago, Meffan, who actively recruited young girls to convent schools, said he had touched some of them sexually.

"What I was trying to show them is that Christ is human and you should love him as a human being," he said at the time. "Don't think he's up there and he's spiritual and he's not human and physical. He's human; he's physical. That's what I was trying to point out to them. I felt that by having this little bit of intimacy with them that this is what it would be like with Christ."

Meffan said he limited the physical nature of the relationships.

He said he touched the girls' breasts, for example, but stopped short of intercourse to protect his celibacy vow.


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