Archdiocese Faces Suit over Alleged Abuse
Ex-Altar Boy Accuses Priest

By John Ellement
Boston Globe
September 11, 1998

A Charlestown man who charges he was repeatedly molested by a priest as a child has sued the Archdiocese of Boston because it allegedly allowed the priest to train him and other altar boys - even though they knew he had a history of child sexual abuse.

Brian Lacey, 21, filed the suit with his mother, Annemarie Vesey, on Tuesday in Suffolk Superior Court. The suit alleges that the priest, Robert M. Burns, molested Lacey inside St. Mary's Church and its rectory between 1986 and 1991.

Burns' abuse, the suit contends, caused Lacey to fall victim to substance abuse, anguish, and bodily pain. Burns, who is no longer a priest, is now serving time in New Hampshire state prison on an unspecified charge, according to the lawsuit.

John Walsh, spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said yesterday that he could not talk about Burns' assignments in Boston because of the lawsuit - one of more than a dozen similar suits the archdiocese has faced since the early 1990s.

Neither Lacey nor his mother could be reached for comment. Their attorney, Timothy P. O'Connell, did not return phone messages to his home.

According to the lawsuit, Burns was a parish priest in Youngstown, Ohio, in 1981 when the church first discovered he was molesting children. He was sent to the House of Affirmation in Worcester for treatment and counseling.

When he returned, according to the lawsuit, he continued molesting children. Between 1982 and 1985, the suit alleges, Youngstown Bishop James W. Malone and Cardinal Humberto Medeiros reassigned Burns to Boston.

Malone purportedly warned Medeiros that Burns could still harm children, according to the lawsuit. Malone also urged Boston officials to keep Burns away from young boys and to disclose the priest's past.

The lawsuit states that Burns continued to molest children at St. Thomas Aquinas Church in Jamaica Plain, his first assignment. In 1986, he was transferred to St. Mary's parish in Charlestown, the suit alleges, where Lacey, then 10 years old, had just begun training as an altar boy.

Over the next five years, according to the lawsuit, Burns repeatedly forced Lacey to perform "non-consensual sexual acts" while Lacey "was under his pastoral care and guidance."

St. Mary's current pastor, the Rev. James B. Canniff, gave Burns the assignment, according to the lawsuit. Canniff - who is a codefendant in the lawsuit along with the archdiocese, Burns, Cardinal Bernard Law, Malone, and the Youngstown diocese - did not return a telephone call yesterday.

The assaults stopped on Nov. 16, 1991, when Burns apparently again caught the attention of the church, according to the lawsuit. He was sent to St. Luke's Institute in Maryland for treatment as a pedophile; the institute urged that Burns undergo extensive tests because of the "depth of his impairment," but Burns rejected the recommendation.

According to the lawsuit, Burns was not allowed to return to St. Mary's and the archdiocese did not disclose his history of abusing children until March 1996 to shield itself from a lawsuit. Lacey, the suit states, did not realize Burns was responsible for his emotional upheaval until August 1997.

In June, the archdiocese paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits brought by people who said they had been molested by the Rev. John Geoghan, a now-retired priest.

For the past several years, Walsh said, the archdiocese has tried to work with victims of pedophile priests by offering spiritual and emotional counseling.

"We also advise people who come to us of their rights to be represented by counsel, to pursue criminal charges, if that's appropriate," Walsh said. "If things come up from the past, we have to deal with them in whatever is the appropriate way."


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