Church Removes Bust of Ex-Pastor
Late Cleric Accused of Abusing Girls

By Charles A. Radin
Boston Globe
October 14, 2006

The bust of the Rev. Louis Toma stood for years on the grounds of St. Lazarus Church, a monument to the prominent priest who led the East Boston parish for a half-century.

But yesterday, in a sign of the Catholic church's continuing struggle to deal with sexual abuse of children by priests, workers dragged the bust from its pedestal and carted it away for disposal.

The Rev. Louis Toma led his church for a half-century.

Women had complained to Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley that the priest had abused numerous young girls during his 50 years as pastor of the parish and asked that the statue be taken down.

Barbara Thorp, director of the Victims' Support Office of the Archdiocese of Boston, said Toma and another priest had abused children in the rectory, the sanctuary, the sacristy, and the school of the church, which was renamed St. Joseph-St. Lazarus Parish as a result of a merger with a neighboring parish in 1985.

Thorp said the women's stories were individually convincing, collectively consistent, and showed a pattern of recognizable abuse.

"There was absolutely no doubt that these women were telling a terrible truth," Thorp said. "We had an obligation to listen and to respond."

Yesterday, about 16 people -- including victims, family members, clergy, and members of the parish council -- watched quietly as the image of Toma was lifted into a truck and a minibulldozer knocked over its 5-foot-tall marble pedestal, said the Rev. John Connolly. Some victims cried, and some took pictures, Connolly said.

A bust of the late Rev. Louis Toma was removed near an East Boston church. Evan Richman / Globe staff

Toma, an Italian-born priest for whom the church's youth center on Ashley Street is named, was pastor of the parish from 1911 until his death in 1961. Connolly, who is O'Malley's special assistant for dealing with the sexual abuse crisis in the church, said that the Rev. Guido Caverzan, who was assigned to the church in the 1970s, also sexually abused children.

Toma "was iconic," Connolly said in an interview in the parish offices yesterday afternoon. "He literally built this place. There are people here who were married and baptized by him and whose parents and grandparents were, too.

"But the only way to deal with these things is openly and in the light of day," Connolly said. "It is painful but necessary to say that someone who was entrusted with the care of children harmed and abused them."

Father Toma Square was named for the prominent East Boston priest. Evan Richman / Globe staff

Thorp, who also was interviewed in the parish offices, said people working with the victims are certain there are many more victims who have not come forward.

"It is a function of how much is out there that this man died in 1961 and these women have carried this weight all these years," she said. "It is never too late to set things right."

Thorp and Connolly said the continuing presence of the statue honoring Toma on the church grounds motivated his victims to come forward.

In August 2005, the victims wrote to O'Malley requesting the removal of the bust. They then related their experiences in detail to social workers from Thorp's office.

"But the only way to deal with these things is openly and in the light of day."
– The Rev. John Connolly

Connolly and Thorp told the Rev. John Kilmartin, the current pastor of the parish, what had occurred, and three weeks ago they met with the parish council, a lay group.

"There were varied reactions," Connolly said. "For the older members of the council, it was very painful and shocking news. They had pleasant memories of Father Toma, and this filled them with grief. But they could not have received it with hearts more open. They did not blame the victims."

After a meeting, consensus was reached that the bust should be removed .

When Thorp reported on the meeting to the victims, she said, the women asked if they could meet with the parish council.

"The council members said they wanted to meet the people who had been so hurt and to hear from them," Thorp said. "They also wanted to be able to say to their fellow parishioners that they had heard directly from the victims" before removing the bust and ordering Toma's name taken off of the youth center.

Charles A. Radin can be reached at

[Note from The photographs were scanned from a paper copy of the newspaper.]


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