Former Massachusetts priest John Sweeney sexually abused teens
May 7, 2019
Nadine Tifft’s faith has been tested.
The 37-year-old publicly accused a priest on Tuesday of sexually molesting her as a teenager growing up in New England.
“I’m still Catholic,” she said, but adding, “It makes it hard to go to church.”
Two decades ago, Tifft and several friends attended leadership retreats organized through her church for young members. The retreats were held around New England, designed to connect Catholics throughout New England with leaders in the church.
During such events, Tifft alleges she was sexually abused by a former clergyman in Massachusetts, the Rev. John Sweeney, of the “Franciscans of Primitive Observance,” a religious community under the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston.
Sweeney would encourage the teens to confess their sins and, after confessionals, told several they were possessed and would perform exorcisms on them, Tifft said.
During a church retreat in 2000, Tifft said Sweeney sexually molested her. In years since, Tiffts said other friends said they were sexually abused by Sweeney as well.
“We were teenagers who trusted that priest,” she said.
She refrained from speaking about the incident for more than a decade, coming forward first by reporting the incident first to investigators with the church several years ago.
Promises were made but in the end, “they did nothing,” Tifft said.
Sweeney was assigned to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in New Bedford from 1998 into 2004. In years since, he was assigned to other parishes in Massachusetts, including Lawrence and Roxbury. His current location is not currently listed, according to Tifft’s attorney.
Attorney Mitchell Garabedian held a press conference Tuesday to allow Tifft to speak with reporters and to release the names of seven other priests who he said have been “credibly accused” of sexually abusing minors but not publicly identified by the Archdiocese of Boston.
Garabedian, the Boston attorney who has famously represented sexual abuse victims in the region during the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal, said abuses in the church are far from over.
The priests Garabedian says he’s adding to his website of priests accused of sexual abuse include the Rev. Gerard D. Barry, the Rev. Walter Casey, the Rev. Richard Donahue, the Rev. Charles McGahey, the Rev. Arnold E. Kelley, the Rev. Edward J. Mc Laughlin and Monsignor Charles J. Ring.
The Boston attorney said Archdiocese has declined to list their names on the Archdiocese’s website for more than a year.
Donahue and Kelley are alive, the other five named are deceased. The Archdiocese of Boston reached a five-figure settlement with a victim of Kelley, who lived in Lowell for a number of years.
Years after the Catholic priest sexual abuse scandal made international headlines, Garabedian said victims are still coming forward for multiple reasons: victims needing time to process what occurred and a lack of transparency allowing for continued abuse.
Garabedian said the victims range in age from 29 to 76 years old.
“We’re spanning decades of sexual abuse,” he said, adding, “The Catholic Church cannot self police when it comes to sexual abuse and this is just further evidence.”
The Archdiocese disputed this remark when reached for comment Tuesday.
“The Archdiocese of Boston is committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of children and young people in our parishes and institutions. We evidence that commitment in part by following our publicly-stated protocol for handling claims of abuse, as we have in the allegations asserted in today’s press conference wherein it falsely suggests that archdiocese has broken from promises.”
All allegations made against clergymen were immediately reported to law enforcement when they were received, the Archdiocese said, and the names of accused priests are listed according to protocol.
Five of the priests were dead at the time the church received the allegations against them so are not listed on the Archdiocese’s website, per protocol.
Kelley has not been in active ministry and has been publicly disclosed so his name is listed on the Archdiocese’s website. Donahue is retired and allegations against him remain under investigation, according to the church.
The Archdiocese said Sweeney is no longer a priest in the Catholic Church.