Accused Priest Had Been Relocated Ohio Official Cites Treatment Details

By Kathleen Burge and Michael Paulson
Boston Globe
January 24, 2001

A former Charlestown priest accused of molesting at least five boys in the late 1980s had a history of sexually abusing children in Ohio, and was sent to Massachusetts for treatment with the understanding that he would be kept away from young boys, an Ohio church official said yesterday.

Nancy Yuhasz, chancellor of the diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, confirmed yesterday that Bishop James W. Malone, who died last year, had sent the Rev. Robert M. Burns to Boston for treatment with the understanding that he would not have contact with children. Burns was sent to Boston in the early 1980s.

"Any time a priest is in treatment, that is part of the agreement - that he would not be in contact with young children," Yuhasz said. "The agreement Bishop Malone made with the archbishop of Boston was that he was sent there for treatment with that understanding."

Burns and the Boston Archdiocese are named as defendants in Suffolk Superior Court lawsuits, filed Friday, that allege Burns molested three boys at St. Mary's Church in Charlestown between 1988 and 1990. Two similar lawsuits, alleging abuse of boys, were filed in the 1990s.

John B. Walsh, spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese, declined to comment on the allegations against Burns, saying it is archdiocesan policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.

In the suits filed Friday, two former altar boys, and another former parishioner who was training to be an altar boy, allege that Burns molested them in the church, the rectory, and on field trips. The three are now in their 20s.

The lawsuits charge that the Archdiocese of Boston, at the time headed by Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, allowed Burns to train altar boys at St. Mary's, knowing that Burns had allegedly molested two boys in Ohio.

In March 1996, apparently after he left the priesthood, Burns pleaded guilty to two counts of molesting a boy in his Salem, N.H., apartment, and served time in a Vermont prison. It is unclear where Burns, allegedly removed from St. Mary's after a 1991 psychiatric evaluation, now lives. He is no longer in prison in Vermont, according to that state's records.

Relating the agreement struck between church officials in Youngstown and Boston, Yuhasz said that, after Burns completed treatment, he was allowed to stay in Boston on a leave of absence, with the understanding that he would continue to be kept from children.

"After the treatment, Father Burns wanted to continue some studies in Boston, and the arrangement was he would do that and live in a rectory, but he was still not to be placed in any assignments or situations where he would be in contact with young boys," Yuhasz said.

The three lawsuits filed Friday also charge that he molested children while he was a priest at the Church of St. Thomas Aquinas in Jamaica Plain in the mid-1980s. Timothy P. O'Connell, the lawyer for the three men who filed those lawsuits, could not be reached for comment.

Also, a lawsuit alleging molestation by another priest was filed Monday in Suffolk Superior Court. The Rev. Joseph Gilpin is charged with molesting a boy at several locations, including a Catholic camp in Duxbury and the boy's home in Wareham, between 1965 and 1968. The man who filed the suit said he had repressed the memory of the abuse, which he charges took place when he was between the ages of 9 and 12, until a year ago.

Walsh refused comment on the suit against Gilpin.


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