Parish Prays Priest Is Innocent

By David Mcfadden
Patriot Ledger
January 10, 2005

WEYMOUTH - Exasperation, anger and worry.

Those are the sentiments being voiced by parishioners at St. Francis Xavier Church about a sex abuse charge leveled against their pastor and his subsequent voluntary leave of absence.

"We're just hoping it's not true," said Anne-Marie McCarthy, president of the town affiliate of the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful. "All we can do is hope and pray that (the allegation) is wrong."

The Rev. Eugene P. Sullivan, 68, the former superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Boston, has been accused of fondling a 15-year-old boy in his car in 1977. He has accepted a voluntary leave of absence "for the good of the parish," according to a statement released Friday from archdiocese officials. He could not be reached yesterday for comment.

Some parishioners say the lawsuit filed last week against the Rev. Sullivan was made by a dishonest man eager to cash in on the clergy abuse scandal.

"If Jesus were here today, he'd be up on charges," said Marilyn Mattson, a parishioner of the church for 35 years. "You have to take away the lure of money to stop these people from making awful claims that destroy people's lives."

Some parishioners also believe the sex abuse allegation is a case of mistaken identity, a theory presented by the Rev. Sullivan's lawyer. Archbishop Sean O'Malley intends to ask the archdiocesan review board, which is investigating the accusation, if the charge is credible and merits administrative leave. Under archdiocesan rules, a priest is put on administrative leave when a credible abuse allegation is made.

Ann Carter, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said yesterday that the review board would discuss the allegation against the Rev. Sullivan at its next meeting..

After Mass at the Weymouth church yesterday, the Rev. Edwin D. Condon, vicar of the southern region of the archdiocese, said he had no estimate about how long it might take church officials to address the matter. "All I can say is parishioners here are all devastated," the Rev. Condon said.

This is the second time in six months a priest at St. Francis Xavier Church has been accused of sexual misconduct. In late August, parishioners were shocked when the archdiocese removed the Rev. Charles J. Murphy, 70, from the parish after he was named in a sex abuse suit brought by former students at the Boston School for the Deaf in Randolph.

The now 42-year-old man accusing the Rev. Sullivan is seeking unspecified damages for emotional distress as well as expenses for lost earning capacity and therapeutic treatment. The Patriot Ledger is not naming the Boston man, who is a construction worker, because he is an alleged sex abuse victim.

The plaintiff said the alleged fondling occurred in 1977 while the Rev. Sullivan was driving him to a Catholic summer camp in New Hampshire where others have said they were molested.

"I was a volunteer at Exceptional Children's Week and so was he," said the accuser. He said while driving north on Interstate 93, the Rev. Sullivan forced him to engage in mutual fondling, and told him, "This is our little secret, let's keep it quiet."

The man said he never told anyone about the incident until about 10 months ago when he called Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who has successfully represented many of victims of priest sex abuse.

"Lots of shame, lots of guilt," the accuser said. "It pretty much ruined my life."

Meanwhile, Paul Kelly, the lawyer for the Rev. Sullivan, who has been based at St. Francis Xavier for about eight years, said the plaintiff has misidentified his abuser.

"There are multiple Father Eugene Sullivans who are more or less the same age," Kelly said last week. "(My client) has no knowledge of this plaintiff and vigorously denies the allegations. He is 68 years old, a priest for 36 years and has a completely unblemished record."

Another priest with a nearly identical name, the Rev. Eugene M. O'Sullivan, pleaded guilty in 1984 to raping an altar boy in Arlington. He was accused of molesting a number of boys and teenagers on the South Shore, including his nephew in Quincy and a Marshfield boy in 1964.

However, Garabedian, the accuser's lawyer, maintains the lawsuit identifies the correct man. His client also alleges that two former Brighton parish priests, including one named previously in suits and archdiocese records, molested him when he was 15 as well.

Filed in Suffolk Superior Court, the Boston man's lawsuit is one of 10 new clergy sex abuse lawsuits that have been filed against the archdiocese in a little more than a week.

Last year, the Archdiocese of Boston reached an $85 million settlement with more than 550 people who said they were abused by priests.


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