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Man says aide to cardinal let abuse claims languish

By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 3/31/1993

 In-depth
In 1992, the Rev. James R. Porter case in Fall River brought the problem of clergy abuse into the open.  
Coverage of the Porter case
ne of the two delegates named by Cardinal Bernard F. Law to handle sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston apparently failed to relay allegations against a former Boston priest who has now been accused of sexually abusing boys in a California choir.

The complaint made in 1985 to Rev. John B. McCormack, secretary for ministerial personnel in the Boston archdiocese, involved Rev. Richard T. Coughlin, a Boston priest who moved to California in 1965.

In several interviews recently, David Coleman, 45, of Eastham, stated that he had informed Father McCormack of being sexually abused by Father Coughlin numerous times over a four-year period beginning in 1958, when Coleman was 9 years old.

The alleged assaults took place while Father Coughlin, who is now 68, was assigned to St. Patrick's parish in Stoneham, said Coleman, who works as a journalist for several weekly Cape Cod newspapers.

Coleman said he decided to inform the church of the alleged assaults in 1985, months after he realized in the course of therapy that he had been abused as a child. Coleman was referred to Father McCormack after approaching archdiocesan officials.

John B. Walsh, communications director for the Boston archdiocese, confirmed yesterday that Father McCormack met with Coleman Nov. 15, 1985, and that Father McCormack had taken no action following the meeting.

Father McCormack was named in January by Cardinal Law as one of the two delegates responsible for investigating complaints in the archdiocese of sexual abuse involving church workers.

Father Coughlin, who served in parishes in Stoneham and Lynn for 12 years before moving to California in 1965, was suspended by the Orange, Calif., diocese Jan. 29. According to Msgr. John Urell, chancellor of the Orange diocese, Father Coughlin was removed because of allegations that he had abused four former members of All-American Boys Chorus in Costa Mesa, a group he founded in 1970.

Coleman's was a fifth case also considered by the Orange diocese.

Msgr. Urell said yesterday that Coleman's complaint was among those reviewed by diocesan officials before suspending the priest.

Msgr. Urell said his diocese had not received any complaints about Father Coughlin from the Boston archdiodese.

Coleman said he brought the allegations against Father Coughlin on his own to the Orange diocese, in a phone call around Dec. 10 last year. Coleman said the Orange diocese was in an early stage of its own investigation of allegations against Father Coughlin involving members of the boys' chorus, and his was the second complaint reviewed by the Orange diocese.

Walsh, the Boston archdiocese spokesman, first said no archdiocesan official would comment on the case because of its "pastoral sensitivity."

Later, after Coleman gave the archdiocese written permission to discuss his case, Walsh confirmed that Father McCormack had verified that he met with Coleman in 1985 but added that "our records don't turn up any proceedings from that meeting."

Asked why the archdiocese did not inform the Orange diocese of the allegations or take other action, Walsh said he could not discuss the case in any more detail because of the confidentiality required by abuse cases, which goes beyond any obligation to Coleman himself.

"We certainly do not want to be in a position of trying to contradict or argue with Mr. Coleman, which comes out of our sincere pastoral concern for Mr. Coleman," Walsh said.

Walsh said the sexual abuse policy adopted by the archdiocese in January now provides that abuse complaints be passed to another diocese or to a religious order.

"We would take that initiative and inform the complainant that we had done so and also urge them to be in contact with the other diocese or order, as well," he said.

While Orange has suspended Father Coughlin, there have been no criminal charges brought as a result of the allegations. All of the abuse allegations in California involve events of at least 10 years ago, and it appears that the statute of limitations has expired in those cases.

Msgr. Urell said Father Coughlin "has been suspended from public functioning as a priest." But he added that he knew of no civil or criminal proceedings against the priest.

Coleman believes the case would have been different if prompt action had been taken on his complaints. "If Boston had passed on what I told them in 1985 and the Orange Diocese had turned up some kids seven years ago, the charges would have been within the statute of limitations," he said.

Born June 13, 1924, in Boston, Father Coughlin prepared for the priesthood at St. John's Seminary in Brighton and was ordained in 1953. In California, he has served in parishes in the Los Angeles archdiocese and the Orange diocese, and taught part-time at a private high school, officials there said.

Last December, after calling church officials in Orange, Coleman said, he saw Father McCormack in the Boston Archdiocese again. At the Dec. 22 meeting, Coleman recalled, Father McCormack said he could not remember seeing him in 1985 and said there was no record of abuse complaints against Father Coughlin.

Coleman said he asked Father McCormack why the archdiocese had made no attempt to find out if there were other complaints about Father Coughlin during his time in Boston. "He told me that if victims had not come forward in light of all the publicity over the Porter case, he took that as a sign they were dealing emotionally with the trauma," Coleman said.

More than 100 persons in Massachusetts and several other states contended last year that they had been sexually abused by James R. Porter, a former Catholic priest. Publicity on the Porter case has triggered the reporting of numerous other cases of priestly abuse and elevated concern for victims both inside and outside the church.

Upset at the denial of the previous meeting, Coleman sought help from friends in whom he confided the story of his abuse and his efforts to get action by church officials. He first turned to a friend who had accompanied him to the 1985 meeting and she provided an exact date for the session. After the date was relayed to him by a Boston Globe reporter, Father McCormack found a record of the visit and confirmed the encounter in a phone call to Coleman last Saturday.

Ed Maroney of Yarmouth, who worked with Coleman at a weekly newspaper on Cape Cod, recalled hearing parts of the story beginning at least in 1989. "David talked about how he was tracing Coughlin, and one day I remember he said, 'I know where he is but I'm not sure what I should do.' "

Rev. Ellen Chahey, a Methodist minister who is married to Maroney, said she remembers talking to Coleman in 1990 about his efforts to get action by the church in Boston. "He talked about going to the chancery and not getting the right response, or any response," said Rev. Chahey, who was in 1990 pastor of a United Methodist parish in Yarmouth and is now executive director of the Cape Cod Council of Churches.

In an essay he wrote about the experience, Coleman described the anguish he felt just in trying to tell his story to church officials in Boston in 1985. "I shook and sweated and cried. I felt a terrible pain, shame and fear. McCormack said little, only that church officials would try to corroborate my tale, but I would never be told what they found and what, if anything, they did," he wrote.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 3/31/1993.
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