Catholic Brother Arrested in Lowell; Charges Include Rape of Hub Altar Boys

By Robin Washington
Boston Herald
August 15, 2002

A Catholic brother who was assigned around the world after he allegedly molested four altar boys at an East Boston parish decades ago was arrested yesterday in the Lowell home of his sister, Suffolk County District Attorney Daniel F. Conley said.

Brother Fidelis DeBerardinis, 75, of Cleawater Beach, Fla., will be arraigned in Suffolk Superior Court this morning on a grand jury's indictment of 11 counts of child rape, attempted rape and indecent assault and battery of the boys at Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church from 1968 to 1973.

"At the time of the alleged crimes, the children were altar boys under Brother DeBerardinis' direction. Their trust was betrayed, their innocence was stolen from them by a predator, who because of his position they were taught to respect and obey," Conley said of the alleged victims.

"They have carried this wound, this betrayal, inside them for three decades."

Conley detailed the abuse as occuring when the alleged victims were between 8 and 13 years old and taking place in the church's rectory, the sacristy and in the "altar boy's club" - a room DeBerardinis modified as an area for the youths to congregate.

In one case, Conley said, DeBerardinis attempted to pay one of the children for sexual favors.

"He did in fact pay him $ 5 and $ 10 after the first two incidents, which involved fondling and rape," Conley said.

"After the third incident the defendant refused to pay the child any more money, admonishing the child that he had not performed the sexual act satisfactorily."

A member of the Franciscan Province of the Immaculate Conception, or the Franciscan Friars, DeBerardinis served at the East Boston Italian church from 1968 to 1973.

He left the Bay State in 1973 for assignments in Honduras, Guatemala, Trinidad, Israel and New York, before retiring at friaries in Canada and Florida.

His departure from the Bay State allowed the statute of limitations in the case to be tolled, or frozen, said Conley, who said the first victim came forward in response to the district attorney's child sex abuse hotline established earlier this year.

"That's why we were able to bring these charges," said Conley.

The district attorney said DeBerardinis surrendered to authorities peacefully. "There was no struggle at the arrest."

The identity of the second victim was supplied by the Archdiocese of Boston as part of its agreement to turn over all records of suspected abuse to Bay State authorities.

The other two cases were discovered through "good, old fashioned" investigative work, Conley said, adding that Florida authorities cooperated in the investigation and tipped off Conley's office that DeBerardinis was in Lowell visiting his sister.

The Rev. Robert M. Capagna, the provincial father, or head of the order, said from New York he received a request for information about the brother from the DA's office three weeks ago.

"They asked me in this case to hand over his personnel file, which I did immediately," he said.

But, he said, it was not the first time he was aware of abuse charges against DeBerardinis.

"In 1992, an adult came forward with a complaint against Brother Fidelis. That case was settled in an amicable way," Capagna said.

"Since that time, Brother has not been allowed to participate in ministry where minors were involved," he said.

Though Conley's spokesman, David Procopio, said the district attorney's office did not have any agreement with the order on turning over all its files on suspected abusers, he said the office would be open to discussion about doing so.

Capagna told the Herald he would comply wholeheartedly.

"Absolutely," he said.

He also expressed his sorrow over the actions of DeBerardinis.

"We certainly would like to offer our heartfelt apology to anyone who might have been harmed in any way by a member of our province, especially those who may have been hurt by Brother Fidelis," he said.

Susan Gallagher of Medford, who received a $ 250,000 settlement from the Salesians in 1998 for alleged abuse at the hands of a Salesian priest 20 years ago, endorsed any new cooperation between orders and prosecutors.

"The more open, the more complete all of these revelations are, the better. And the more the district attorneys investigate these complaints the better."


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