Former New Bedford-based Priest Accused of Sexual Assault
By Taylor Cormier
May 8, 2019
A Catholic priest with religious roots in New Bedford is one of eight priests named in new sexual assault allegations.
During a press conference in Boston Tuesday hosted by renowned attorney Mitchell Garabedian, Nadine Tifft, 37, of Indiana, accused Fr. John Sweeney of sexually assaulting her nearly 20 years ago.
Tifft, a teenager living in Vermont at the time, says in 2000 she attended a leadership retreat through her church. The retreat featured visiting church leaders from around New England. Tifft says one of the visiting priests, Fr. Sweeney, encouraged the young people to attend confession. After confession, Fr. Sweeney is alleged to have told several of the teenagers that they were possessed and he would perform exorcisms on them.
Tifft says that the sexual abuse of herself and others occurred during the "exorcisms" performed by Fr. Sweeney.
“We were teenagers who trusted that priest,” she said.
For ten years Tifft never spoke of the abuse, but reported it to church investigators several years ago to no avail.
Fr. Sweeney was a member of the Franciscans of Primitive Observance, a group of Roman Catholic priests that had split from the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal in New York in 1994. Sweeney and five other men reached out to then Capuchin Franciscan friar Sean Patrick O'Malley, who is now the archbishop of the Boston Diocese. O'Malley agreed to host the new group and helped establish the Immaculate Conception Friary in New Bedford. Sweeney was assigned to Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception from 1998 to 2004.
"Cardinal O'Malley had ordained Father John a priest without properly vetting him for the priesthood, and along with doing so he unleashed a monster into priesthood that would go on to molest me and at least four of my other friends that I know," Tifft said.
The archdiocese said Sweeney is not a part of the ministry but did not reveal his current whereabouts.
Garabedian named seven other priests who he says have also had credible claims of sexual assault made against them:
Rev. Gerard D. Barry
Rev. Walter Casey
Rev. Richard Donahue
Rev. Charles McGahey
Rev. Arnold E. Kelley
Rev. Edward J. McLaughlin
Msgr. Charles J. Ring
Garabedian shamed the Boston Archdiocese for not publicly listing the names of the accused priests on their website. In a statement, the archdiocese said it follows protocol in sexual abuse claims "as we have in the allegations asserted in today's press conference wherein it falsely suggests that archdiocese has broken from promises."
"With respect to the following names raised today and as required by our protocols, all allegations were immediately reported to law enforcement when they were received by the Archdiocese."
The archdiocese said five of the seven priests were not named on their website because they were dead by the time the allegations were made. Sweeney's name was not listed because he "is no longer a priest and the allegation was received after he was no longer in ministry."