Attorney Says Church Needs to Do More about Recent Sex Allegations

By Dan McDonald
The MetroWest Daily News
September 2, 2009

An attorney who has represented dozens of clergy abuse victims says the Boston archdiocese needs to communicate more openly with parishioners on sexual assault allegations, such as the one facing a former Natick priest.

The church plans to hold a listening forum about the abuse allegations against the Rev. Frederick Barr, who served at St. Patrick's in Natick from 1997 to 2000.

Boston-based attorney Carmen Durso says that's not enough.

"Listening sessions are just the current politically correct way of dealing with any issue," he said. "The church is adopting the same mechanisms that are popular in politics and they aren't really meaningful."

To strike at the heart of the problem, Durso said the church should have more vigorous communications with churchgoers.

"They should go out to every single parish and say, 'We are determined to make this stop. We have zero tolerance. We're going to move quickly and we want to hear about it,' " he said.

The spate of clergy abuse victims coming forward earlier in the decade has changed church policy in one major way, said Durso.

"They don't just move (clergy) around anymore. They actually do something now when an allegation surfaces," he said.

Barr, who most recently served St. Patrick Church in Watertown, was placed on administrative leave Aug. 30 in reaction to the accusation, which relates to his time at St. Luke's in Belmont 20 years ago.

It is unclear whether the archdiocese will hold listening forums in Natick or at St. James the Great in Wellesley, where Barr also spent time.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Kelly Lynch was noncommital.

"At this time, the archdiocese is focused on the needs of parishioners at St. Patrick in Watertown and will be working with other parishes to individually assess their needs and provide services as appropriate," she wrote.

For the second day in a row, St. Patrick's in Natick declined comment, deferring to the archdiocese.

This is not St. Patrick's first connection to clergy sexual misconduct.

In 2001, the Rev. Daniel Twomey, then the church's pastor, resigned because of "inappropriate sexual misconduct with adult women." Those allegations rocked the parish.

Those keeping vigil at St. James the Great in Wellesley, which received a notice of suppression from the Archdiocese of Boston about five years ago, had yet to discuss the allegations against the Rev. Barr as a group.

Betty Elliott, a St. James parishioner for 48 years, remembered him serving the church more than 15 years ago. She was quick to say she has nothing to say about Barr or the allegation of sexual misconduct.

"I didn't have any personal dealings with him," she said. "Nothing surprises me anymore, but at the same time I don't want to accuse anyone of anything."

Nancye Connor remembered him as a quiet man with "a very beautiful singing voice."

The few parishioners who still gather to worship in the church has yet to discuss the matter. That may happen Sunday.

Kathleen Daly, a St. James parishioner said, "I'm always in favor of communication and answering questions."

Anne Southwood, chairwoman for the Boston Area Council of the lay advocacy group Voice of Faithful, said she thought at the very least it would be appropriate to have some sort of forum at St. Luke's in Belmont.

Both St. Luke's and St. Patrick in Watertown are under the spiritual guidance of Bishop Walter Edyvean, who did not return a phone call yesterday .

Southwood commended the church for reaching out to the Watertown parish.

The fact that the allegation has arisen now, two decades after the fact, is not unusual, said Southwood.

"The average age of a survivor accepting and realizing what happened is usually somewhere in the 30s," she said. "Facing the reality must be extremely difficult for them."

Durso agreed. Occasionally, a victim will suppress a memory, Durso said, but more often the victim will remember what happened, choose not to deal with it and not press charges.

In 2003, when he was representing more than 60 clergy abuse victims, Durso said the average time between the abuse and the victim coming forward was about 33 years.

"Twenty years after the fact is early," he said. "But one thing I've noticed: The time period is getting a bit shorter."

(Dan McDonald can be reached at 508-626-4416 or


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