Former Priest Facing Abuse Lawsuit Serving Time for Molesting Boy

By John Ellement
Boston Globe
September 12, 1998

A former priest who has been sued by a Charlestown man for allegedly molesting him during a five-year period while training him as an altar boy is serving time in a Vermont prison for molesting a young boy in his apartment.

Robert M. Burns, who is no longer a priest, pleaded guilty in March 1996 to two counts of molesting a boy he lured into his Salem, N.H., apartment. Authorities said he promised to show him computer images of women in swimsuits.

On Tuesday, Brian Lacey, 21, of Charlestown, and his mother, Annemarie Vesey, sued Burns, the Archdiocese of Boston and church officials in Ohio alleging that the church knew Burns had been an active pedophile for decades, yet still allowed him to work with children in two Boston parishes during the 1980s.

In the lawsuit filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Lacey alleges that Burns sexually molested him in St. Mary's church and its rectory from 1987 until 1991.

Burns allegedly had molested children in Ohio and was sent for counseling and treatment, according to the lawsuit. But Burns' record was kept secret after he was reassigned to Boston.

He apparently has been sued by another victim from Charlestown, a suit that was settled for $ 80,000 to $ 90,000, according to an Associated Press account of Burns' guilty plea in 1996.

Yesterday, Philip Saviano recalled talking with Lacey in January. He wanted to talk about how Burns molested him beginning when he was 11 years old.

"Brian was very young when this happened to him," Saviano said. "It was very traumatic. He kept it to himself for so many, many years."

Saviano, who is regional coordinator of Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests, praised Lacey and his mother for taking a stand.

"It's an important step for him, in starting to take charge of the situation," Saviano said.

John Walsh, spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, said he did not recall other litigation involving Burns. He said that if a case has been settled, the archdiocese's policy is not to discuss it publicly.

Since the early 1990s when the Rev. James Porter case surfaced with its numerous victims, Walsh said, the Boston Archdiocese has crafted policies to protect parishioners. One key component is the immediate removal of a priest if a substantive complaint of sexual misconduct is lodged. Porter was allowed to remain in parishes despite complaints.

Walsh also noted that Cardinal Bernard Law has assigned a priest, the Rev. William Murphy, as the contact for anyone who wants to report allegations of abuse. He said the church will refer alleged victims to police, to counselors, or notify them that they can retain an attorney to represent them in a civil lawsuit.


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