VA Officials: Diocese Never Told of Priest's Past Troubles
Chaplain Was Hired in 1998, Served Hospital in Menlo Park

By Aaron Davis
San Jose Mercury News
December 17, 2002

A priest accused of raping a 12-year-old girl while at the embattled Boston archdiocese moved to Menlo Park with high recommendations from his superiors and no mention of his troubled past, even though his personnel file warned that "he fools around with kids."

Bay Area clergy members say they explicitly asked whether the Rev. William Scanlan had displayed any sexually deviant behavior or other misconduct that would affect his ministry when he began serving as chaplain of the VA hospital in Menlo Park in 1998. He also occasionally performed Mass in Redwood City, but retired this year and moved back to Massachusetts.

Department of Veterans Affairs and San Francisco archdiocese officials say they were never told of the allegations of Scanlan's sexual involvement with boys in the late 1980s or that he had been ordered into psychiatric treatment.

"None of that was in his record," said William Ball, spokesman for the Palo Alto Veterans Affairs Health Care System. "If those allegations had been verified, we would not have considered any individual in that capacity."

According to records released last week, a handwritten memo by Scanlan's superior in Boston warned: "He is going to cause me a problem. He fools around with kids."

The Department of Veterans Affairs first learned of his troubles when Scanlan was forced to temporarily leave his chaplain post in 2000 and return to Boston to face a church inquiry into rape allegations; no criminal charges were filed. Even after he returned, San Francisco church and Veterans Affairs officials said they were never informed of the conditions the Boston church put on Scanlan: The 56-year-old priest was supposed to be monitored, undergo psychotherapy and be evaluated every four months.

Scanlan could not be reached for comment. He has not been accused of any wrongdoing in the Bay Area and did not have contact with children in his role at the VA hospital, Ball said.

But lawyers and support groups representing the widening group of churchgoers allegedly victimized by priests say the way Scanlan was protected and allowed to continue ministering provides one of the most stark examples yet of a systematic coast-to-coast coverup of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church.

"It doesn't surprise me that they didn't give any warning about Scanlan," said Mary Grant, California regional director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP. "This is how the diocese seems to have been handling clergy abuse across the board."

Local clergy members also found Scanlan's transfer troubling.

"It's most disappointing and distressing," said the Rev. Francis Cilia, vicar general for the Diocese of San Jose, which did not play any role in his transfer. "You rely on the honesty of other dioceses to tell the truth about someone."

Scanlan was relocated to the Bay Area during the tenure of Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned last week as head of the Boston archdiocese. The archdiocese faces hundreds of lawsuits from alleged sexual abuse victims and may resort to filing for bankruptcy in the wake of the church sex scandal.

Scanlan lived most of his four-year stay in the Bay Area at St. Pius Church in Redwood City, where he occasionally performed weekend Mass.

Shortly after Scanlan arrived in the Bay Area, he applied for permission through the San Francisco archdiocese to perform the sacraments necessary as chaplain, said San Francisco archdiocese spokesman Maury Healy.

Following protocol, the San Francisco archdiocese requested a recommendation and a standard questionnaire be filled out by Scanlan's previous supervisors.

The questionnaire was signed by William Murphy, believed to be Bishop William Murphy, former second-in-command at the Boston church. He is now under subpoena to testify before a Massachusetts court.

"After review and inquiry," Murphy stated, the church concluded that Scanlan "had no behavioral problems in the past that would indicate that he might deal with minors in an inappropriate manner." The questionnaire said Scanlan had never had problems with alcohol, substance abuse or sexual misconduct, Healy said.

Late Monday, Healy said there was a possibility that the William Murphy who signed the questionnaire was a deputy bishop in charge of clergy at the Boston archdiocese. Either he or the bishop have the power to speak for the archdiocese.

The Boston archdiocese would not provide any information about Scanlan on Monday.

Ball said that Scanlan never faced criminal charges, so Veterans Affairs had no recourse to investigate or remove him from his position as chaplain.

"Everyone liked him," Ball said. "There was nothing wrong with his record here."


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