Church Grapples with Sexual Abuse
Cardinal Law says Mass for abuse victims

By Shawn Michael Smith
West Roxbury Transcript
November 29, 1995

[This web version was scanned from a copy of the original newspaper in the Robert Costello archive. See also Costello's statement and the links on that page. The leaflets reproduced below are from the Robert Costello archive; they were not included in the original Transcript article. Click on a thumbnail to view the larger image at the end of the article.]

West Roxbury - The image of the shepherd rescuing lost sheep dominated a Mass of healing for victims of sexual abuse at St. Theresa of Avila's Monday night, but abuse survivors said they are not the only ones who need healing.

A former Boy Scout, altar boy, and CYO president at the parish, Robert Costello flew in from Washington, D.C., for the special Mass said by Cardinal Bernard Law. Costello said he and four other plaintiffs reached an out-of-court resolution in June of their lawsuit for sexual abuse by the late Rev. John Cotter, a scout master and youth minister at St. Theresa's from 1965 to 1972.

Robert Costello

Costello, 34, told the Transcript that in a post-settlement conversation, Cardinal Law appeared "horrified" when he told the cardinal that he had been assaulted at St. Theresa's Parish on Oct. 14, 1994, during a centennial Mass at the church. Costello said a man wearing green work clothes and carrying a rake punched him in the face, and several women shouted obscenities at him as he slipped "stop sexual abuse by clergy" leaflets under windshield wipers in the parish parking lot.

"I'm doing my therapy and my healing, but you've got a whole parish in pain," he said he told the cardinal.

Costello said the cardinal apologized for the incident and offered to say the special Mass that took place Monday evening. Between 75 and 100 people attended the Mass.

Costello said the charges that he and others made against Cotter threaten some parishioners' faith. He said he forgave the man who hit him a long time ago and doesn't expect an apology, "but I hope he can reconcile within himself," he said.

A woman who called the Transcript anonymously last week said Cotter raped her repeatedly as a girl when he called her to the rectory to address envelopes. She said some parishioners, however, believe she and other survivors made up charges to get attention or collect money. The conflicting accusations opened up a lasting alienation in her family.

"You think he can't be doing something bad when he's the man who forgives your sins and changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ."
Robert Costello
Former West Roxbury resident

Boston attorney Laurence Hardoon, who filed the civil suit for negligence in supervising personnel, said the archdiocese conducted its own investigation before agreeing to resolve the case out of court. He said the church does not usually do that unless it finds evidence to support the charges.

Costello said suspicion about Cotter arose in the early 1970s when a teen-ager told his mother the priest, a frequent visitor to the family home, was taking sexual liberties. Parishioners immediately scrutinized Cotter's scouting activities, and the priest was subsequently transferred to a parish in Beverly. There he continued his abuse pattern, according to one of the plaintiffs in the law suit. The priest died in 1989.

Costello said Cotter abused him more than a hundred times, mostly during camping trips and at nude bathing sessions at Curtis Hall in Jamaica Plain. When questioned by his parents, however, he lied to avoid getting in trouble and to protect his "friend."

"You think he can't be doing something bad when he's the man who forgives your sins and changes the bread and wine into the body and blood of Christ," said Costello. "You are taught that that man is next to God, and you think it must not be something he's doing wrong; it must be something I'm doing."

He said Cotter once apologized on bended knee to his parents for a single incident of fondling him while asleep, but it was not until a retreat in 1990 that he decided to seek an apology for himself. He pursued a lawsuit in spite of a law that limits suits against charitable organizations to $20,000.

Hardoon said last week that he was impressed by the church's sincerity in trying to help the victims. The Nov. 19 edition of the parish bulletin acknowledges that Cotter "took advantage of some young people in this parish over twenty years ago."

During the Mass Monday, Cardinal Law prayed for both the victims of abuse and for the parish community. He prayed for the coming of "the kingdom of Christ the Good Shepherd, the kingdom of peace and healing and love ... God's kingdom come," he said.


[Note from Rev. William M. Helmick in November 19, 1995 parish bulletin of St. Theresa of Avila]


[Leaflet for Mass celebrated by Cardinal Bernard Law at St. Theresa of Avila on November 27, 1995]



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