Friars to Help Sex-Abuse Victims

Lansing State Journal
August 5, 2002

An Indiana-based order of Franciscan friars may start a national victim support group, partly motivated by a Lansing man who says he was abused by a Catholic priest in 1968.

Richard Maurer, now a Lansing school teacher, says a Franciscan priest assigned to Lansing's Holy Cross Church raped him when he was 16 years old. A leader of the Conventual Franciscan Friars Province of Our Lady of Consolation says he believes the allegation and wants to start a program to help victims - a plan that could take shape this week.

The accused priest, Alphonse Boardway, was murdered in 1997 while living in Arizona. At least one other person has made allegations against Boardway, who also served in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin and Nebraska during his career.

Maurer and the Franciscans reached a $107,860 settlement in 1994. The settlement did not acknowledge Boardway's guilt, but the province's leader - Friar Peter Damian Massengill - wrote Maurer a letter this year indicating he believes the abuse happened.

"We've got to get people focused on the victims and doing what we can to help," said Maurer, explaining why he is going public about the incident.

"Once a settlement is made, the victims are never again contacted by the Catholic Church. They wash their hands and walk away. The victims are being criticized, rather than the priests who abused them," he said.

The Franciscan province, which has about 135 members and covers eight states, also faces allegations related to at least three other former clergy.

The Franciscans plan to discuss forming a national victim-advocacy team at a meeting of the leaders of 125 Roman Catholic religious orders. The group, called Leaders of the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, convenes Wednesday through Saturday in Philadelphia.

"It's just a horrendous thing we're going through," said Brother Bob Baxter, spokesman for the Franciscans based in Mount St. Francis, Ind.

"We need to find some kind of healing to get through this. A national victims' advocacy group could be a huge help."

Maurer, 50, wants the church to seek out victims and help them get counseling from psychiatrists and social workers.

Owning up

Maurer says the church has often been reluctant to acknowledge responsibility in the abuse problem - especially when it comes to helping victims.

Scores of priests across the nation - including an estimated 29 in Michigan - have resigned, been reassigned or stripped of their duties since January in the scandal's wake.

Vincent DeLorenzo resigned from Burton's Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in January. He later admitted inappropriate conduct in a letter read to parishioners. The conduct apparently took place in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Timothy Crowley was stripped of his priestly duties by the Lansing diocese last month while stationed in Alaska. He was removed from an Ann Arbor church in 1993 for past misconduct, the Lansing diocese said.

Bill Kinney, a Lansing man, has made separate allegations stemming from the 1960s against Jeffrey Gregory, a Christian Brother, and James S. Sullivan, a former Lansing area priest who later became bishop in Fargo, N.D. The Lansing diocese says Kinney's accusations are not true.

Maurer says he first told the Franciscans about the abuse in 1985, and was sent a check for $650 with no follow-up. Maurer said he found this response unacceptable and contacted the order again in 1988, but made little progress with them for several years.

Maurer said he first contacted the Diocese of Lansing about the incident in 1992.

He says he was referred to a diocesan lawyer, Camille Abood, who told him the statute of limitations had expired and there was nothing that could be done about the case. The diocese says it has no record of contact between Maurer and Abood, who died in 2000.

Maurer met with two Lansing diocesan officials in April. Maurer asked them to call the Franciscans on his behalf, which the diocese did. Maurer and the Franciscans began discussing a victim advocacy group soon afterward.

The Lansing diocese was not named in the Maurer settlement, and did not hire Boardway. Holy Cross, a church on West Oakland Avenue in Lansing, is staffed by the Franciscans for the diocese.

In general, religious orders that staff parishes for dioceses notify the bishop of appointments as a matter of courtesy, Lansing diocesan spokesman Michael Diebold said. In theory, a bishop could reject the appointment. But in practice, that's virtually unheard of, Diebold said.

The diocese already has a sexual-abuse policy that includes getting help for victims, Diebold said. That policy is now under review to make sure it conforms with a June order from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

The current diocese policy calls for responding to victims "with honesty and openness" and providing them pastoral and professional care.

The U.S. bishops' council plan calls for each diocese to appoint an assistance coordinator to be in charge of helping victims.

Bishop Wilton Gregory, who chaired the U.S. council in June, has asked victims to come forward and report abuse to their bishops.

But Maurer worries that some victims have been misdirected by the church in the past, and others are reluctant to come forward.

"The church doesn't want to accept responsibility," he said.

Betrayed trust

Maurer first met Boardway in the late 1960s through Holy Cross. The friar befriended Maurer's parents and often was a guest in their home.

Boardway invited Maurer to take a vacation to Atlantic City, N.J., in 1968. With his parents' permission, Maurer went, stopping first at Boardway's family's house in New York.

Boardway rubbed himself against Maurer that night, but the teen moved away fro m him and the priest fell asleep, Maurer said.

The next night, in Atlantic City, Boardway bought Maurer several rum and Cokes and both became drunk.

Maurer said Boardway performed sex acts on him, a frightened teenager, who resisted but was una ble to stop the priest.

"He told me no one would believe me," Maurer said. "He told me he had ties to the Mafia. That's very frightening to a teenager."

Maurer insisted that Boardway take him home to Lansing, cutting the trip short.

Maurer says he told his girlfriend - now his w ife, Michelle - about the alleged abuse.

He also told his parents, but says they would not acknowledge a priest could be capable of such actions. They forbade him to speak about it again.

"The church was the family life," Maurer said. "But I had lost my faith in it."

Maurer's parents are both deceased.

Maurer never repressed the memories of the incidents. He's suffered with them for years, including lengthy bouts of depression and panic attacks that required hospitalization.

He feels he is getting better after years of therapy and becoming active to seek help for other victims.

"He wants to contribute to society in a positive way - both in his work and through this effort," said Christine Shafer, a Michigan State University psychiatrist who has counseled Maurer for the past decade.

Fatal fallout

Boardway, meanwhile, was stripped of his church duties and shipped to a rehabilitation center by the Franciscans in the early 1990s.

Maurer insisted on confronting him in 1993. But Boardway was unrepentant, Maurer said.

"It became clear I was dealing with a sociopath who had no conscience," Maurer said.

The Franciscans had removed Boardway from his duties and had urged him to begin the process of leaving the priesthood when he moved to Arizona.

There, Boardway met Douglas Dowdy, who eventually became his roommate. The two got into an argument on Sept. 23, 1997, during a night of cruising gay bars in the Tucson area.

A witness told police that Dowdy strangled Boardway, saying, "He needs to die. You don't know what he has caused," according to police records.

Sgt. Mark Fuller, who worked on the case for the Tucson Police Department, said the motive in the murder was not clear.

"The witness had only met (Boardway) that night," Fuller said. "But he seemed to know something of his past - at least that there were allegations."

Dowdy pled guilty to second-degree murder and is in prison.

Maurer attended Boardway's funeral and spoke about sexual abuse in the church - an issue that largely escaped public attention until this year.

"Victims need to be acknowledged," Maurer said.

"If your car is stolen, you're acknowledged. If your home is broken into, you're acknowledged. But if you are raped by a priest, you are not acknowledged. And that's wrong."

Contact Tim Martin at 377-1061 or


"We need to find some kind of healing to get through this. A national victims' advocacy group could be a huge help."

Brother Bob Baxter spokesman for the Franciscans based in Mount St. Francis, Ind.


"He told me no one would believe me."


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