Ex-California Bishop: Priest Warning Never Came
By Maggie Mulvihill
March 17, 2002
The retired California bishop who suspended former Boston priest Richard T. Coughlin for sexual abuse in 1993 said yesterday he received no information from Boston that Coughlin had been accused of molesting a Bay State boy.
Bishop Norman McFarland's statement directly contradicts assertions late Friday by a former Boston cleric and confidante of Bernard Cardinal Law - Bishop John B. McCormack, now chief of the Diocese of Manchester, N.H. - who claims he alerted a California diocese in 1986 that Coughlin has a history of pedophilia.
McFarland is the former bishop of Orange, Calif., where Coughlin ministered until his suspension for molesting choir boys in 1993.
"If there was something (in Coughlin's file) about Boston, I would have remembered," McFarland, who retired in 1998, said yesterday. McFarland personally suspended Coughlin in February 1993 after a number of men came forward - including David Coleman, 54, of Eastham - claiming they had been sexually abused by Coughlin dating back to the 1950s.
The Herald reported Friday that McCormack met with Coleman in November 1985 to discuss the molestation allegations, but failed to forward any information to California, where Coughlin had relocated in 1965 and where he preyed on boys until at least 1993.
McCormack has refused to comment, but issued a press release late Friday asserting that he had in fact passed word of Coughlin on to his Catholic colleagues in California - allegedly via another former Archdiocese of Boston clerical official about six months after his initial meeting with Coleman.
The statement did not name that official, claiming only that "a record" supported McCormack. The record was not supplied. An aide to McCormack refused to provide the name of the former Boston cleric who allegedly called the California diocese about Coughlin.
"I doubt you are going to get any records," Patrick McGee, McCormack's spokesman, said yesterday. "We're going to stand by the statement we released. It is what it is."
But McFarland said yesterday if any information about Coughlin abusing boys had been relayed to Orange Diocese officials from Boston in 1986, as McCormack claims, it would not have been ignored.
In fact, Orange officials suspended Coughlin in 1993, just weeks after Coleman and others contacted the diocese to say Coughlin molested them as boys.
At that time, several officials in Orange, including Msgr. John Urell, said they had no record of any referral by McCormack or another Boston chancery official about abuse claims against Coughlin. A California detective who has probed Coughlin also said she knew of no such record.
Urell and former Bishop John T. Steinbock, whom McCormack also has claimed in the past was contacted, did not return several phone calls from the Herald.
McFarland was Orange bishop between 1987 and 1998. Yesterday, he defended Urell and Steinbock's vows they were not contacted by Boston about Coughlin.
"I have the utmost confidence they wouldn't lie and say they were notified if they weren't. They are really good, honest people," McFarland, 80, said. "If a phone call came in from another diocese saying this man had been accused of abuse in Boston and he was in Orange and in contact with children," it would have been immediately investigated.
Coughlin, now 78, could not be reached for comment. The diocese of Orange has settled numerous civil suits for sexual abuse against him since 1993. Coughlin worked in Boston area parishes from 1958 until 1965. He is on a list of suspected pedophile priests recently forwarded by Law to Massachusetts law enforcement for possible prosecution.
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