Priest Gets 4-5 Years
Abuse Victim Says Scars Remain

By Ralph Ranalli
Boston Globe [Cambridge MA]
December 2, 2004

CAMBRIDGE - A Catholic priest who admitted repeatedly raping an altar boy over a four- to five-year period at a parish in Waltham during the early 1980s was sentenced yesterday to 4-to-5 years in state prison.

Middlesex Superior Court Judge Charles M. Grabau also sentenced the Rev. Robert Gale to an additional 25 years of probation after his release and ordered him to have no unsupervised contact with anyone under age 16. The sentence, shorter than the 10- to 12-year term sought by prosecutors and based on sentencing rules in effect at the time the abuse occurred, was given after an emotional hearing during which the victim and his family criticized the 63-year-old priest for not showing more remorse.

On Tuesday, before jury selection was to begin, Gale changed his plea to guilty to two counts of child rape, after failing to get the two-year-old case dismissed on grounds that the statute of limitations had run out. Of the scores of allegedly abusive priests in Massachusetts, only a handful have faced such criminal charges, because most of their victims came forward long after the legal deadline for filing charges had expired.

Gale's victim, whose name is being withheld under the Globe's policy of not identifying victims of sexual assault without their consent, accused the priest of trying to manipulate the legal system by trying to escape the charges through the statute of limitations.

"He lied to the court, he lied to myself, and he lied to the public," said the victim, who is now 34. "Knowing in his heart that he lied, he tried to use the judicial system to beat justice by hiding behind the statute of limitations. It showed what moral character, or lack thereof, that he has."

"The scars of the abuse will continue to haunt me, with self-doubt and lack of trust as my worst disabilities," the victim said.

Gale also spoke at the hearing yesterday, asking for forgiveness and saying that he had tried to change his behavior after he was admitted to an inpatient psychiatric facility in 1987.

"In the spring of 1987, I was given the opportunity to look at myself," Gale said in a calm, flat voice. "I wanted to run. I hated the fact that I was an inpatient at a psychiatric hospital. I knew I was acting irresponsibly at the time, but I didn't know that I was hurting him or his family by not acting as a responsible adult, but acting selfishly."

Stressing the long period of the sexual abuse, Assistant District Attorney Kate MacDougall urged Grabau to sentence Gale to 10 to 12 years in prison.

But the judge settled on a shorter prison term recommended by defense lawyer Robert Lewin. Grabau was required by law to consider, but not necessarily to impose the shorter sentence, which is in line with sentencing rules in effect at the time the crimes were committed. The judge did not say whether Gale's guilty plea influenced the sentence.

Gale's parole eligibility is also determined by rules in effect at the time of the crimes, which means he could be released in just less than three years. Gale could have faced a maximum sentence of life in prison.

The victim and his family did not talk to reporters after the sentencing.

According to prosecutors, the sexual assaults took place at St. Jude Parish in Waltham between 1980 and 1985. The victim was 10 to 15 years old at the time and was sexually abused by Gale about twice a month.

Parishioners at St. Jude forced Gale's removal in 1987. He was also removed from a parish in Quincy in the 1970s after complaints from parishioners that he was abusing altar boys, and there are records of complaints about him to the archdiocese as early as 1968, when he was ordained. Gale was never charged in any other abuse.

Gale, who is still a priest, has been on administrative leave since his indictment in 2002. Under the rules of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, a priest is put on leave when a credible accusation of abuse is raised.

With his conviction, it is possible that he will be defrocked by the archdiocese.

A few other Massachusetts priests and former priests -- including John Geoghan, Paul Shanley, and the Rev. Jean-Paul Gagnon -- have also faced or are facing criminal charges, but the majority of cases have been deemed too old for prosecution. In September, a grand jury in Hampden County indicted Bishop Thomas L. Dupre of Springfield on abuse charges, but hours after the indictment was unsealed, District Attorney William Bennett withdrew the charges, saying the statute of limitations had expired.

That prompted a coalition of sexual-abuse survivors to renew their call for state legislators to repeal the statute of limitations in child-sexual abuse cases. But the proposal is opposed by the state's criminal defense lawyers, and an earlier bill died in committee last year.

Gale's lawyer had tried to get the charges against his client dismissed, arguing that by the time the charges were filed in August 2002, the 15-year statute of limitations for rape had expired. But prosecutors pointed out that Gale lived in New Hampshire for several years; time spent in another state does not count toward the 15-year statute of limitations.

Gale contended he was visiting his sister in New Hampshire and was living in Boston, which would have kept the legal clock running. A judge, however, refused to dismiss the case, clearing the way for a trial.

The victim's parents, who also spoke during the sentencing hearing yesterday, said Gale had caused severe harm to their family, first by raping their son and then by dragging the case through the courts with the statute of limitations defense.

The victim's father said he remembered his son's desperate telephone call of a few years ago when the son first came forward with his allegations of abuse. He said he stayed with his terrified son for "the worst five weeks of my life."

The victim's mother ripped into Gale for saying that he was "at peace" during his plea hearing Tuesday. "You stole his childhood, and now you are being held accountable for your crimes, but not without causing our family even more pain and even more suffering," she said. "You sat there for 2 years claiming you were not guilty, knowing full well you had committed these crimes. Your continuing cruelty knows no bounds. All that damage you caused over all those years and all you can say is that you're at peace. None of your victims are at peace. They are serving a life sentence."

"I hope you are never at peace with what you did," she said.


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