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Spotlight Report

Many are stunned by news

By Brian C. Mooney and Brian MacQuarrie, Globe Staff, 2/9/2002

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It was a spontaneous moment, breaking the solemnity of Mass at St. Helen's Church in Norwell last Sunday. The congregation erupted in applause after the sermon by their new pastor, the Rev. Thomas Maguire, who had described in intensely personal terms the spiritual toll that the pedophile sex scandal has taken on his fellow priests and the Boston Archdiocese.

Less than a week later, the scandal arrived at the doors of Maguire's own parish. The Rev. Gerald J. Hickey, who had been assisting at St. Helen's for several years, was one of six priests abruptly suspended from their duties Thursday for what the archdiocese called ''an allegation of sexual misconduct with a minor.''

The action follows the referral of priests' names to prosecutors on Jan. 30 and again yesterday as part of a belated new ''zero tolerance standard'' set by Cardinal Bernard F. Law regarding allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. Some allegations date back 40 years.

Maguire said he believes there was a single complaint against Hickey and it predated his service at St. Helen's.

''I feel badly for anyone who may have been hurt by him,'' said Maguire, who was assigned to St. Helen's in September. ''Knowing him just briefly, I feel very bad for him, and sorry for him and the good work that he was doing.'' He described Hickey as caring and said the 64-year-old priest did not work with any youth groups at the church. Hickey commuted to the church from his home in Scituate.

A parishioner at St. Helen's said he was stunned by the news.

''It's a shock to see your parish priest's picture in the newspaper with a story like this,'' said the parishioner, a prominent Boston businessman who asked not to be identified. ''I mean, I took Communion from the guy.''

Surprise and disbelief was also the reaction at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Brockton, where the Rev. David C. Murphy, 65, had served intermittently since about 1993. He was also part-time chaplain at two local hospitals, Caritas Good Samaritan Medical Center and Brockton Hospital.

''There's no question he's been a popular priest, and this would shock every parishioner I know,'' said David Farrell, an aide to Mayor John Yunits and a communicant at the West Side parish. ''He's well liked and known for his dry sense of humor.''

Robert L. Hughes, vice president of Brockton Hospital, said the facility was blindsided by the news.

''I learned about it from television last night,'' he said. ''We've been assured these are old charges against Father Murphy and none occurred here.''

Also suspended on Thursday were the Revs. Robert A. Ward Jr., 55, who had worked in the archdiocese's development office for the past year while living at St. Mary's rectory in Dedham; Thomas P. Forry, 60, who had been filling in for priests in parishes around the archdiocese; Richard A. Buntel, 56, a nonministerial business manager at St. Thomas of Villanova Church in Wilmington; and James F. Power, 71, of St. James the Great Church in Wellesley.

Besides Hickey's case, the archdiocese has previously settled complaints involving Buntel, Power, and Murphy, the Globe has reported.

Ward ''did not have any pastoral responsibilities'' at St. Mary's or participate in any of the youth programs at the church, said the pastor, the Rev. John A. Dooher. His removal will have ''no direct bearing on the life of this parish,'' he said.

Before moving to St. Mary's, Ward had been at St. Malachy's Church in Burlington for about a year, where he said he was being treated at the Lahey Clinic for an undisclosed condition, one parishioner said. Ward regularly said Mass there and interacted with the congregation, said the parishioner. But the pastor, the Rev. Leonard O'Malley, said Ward was never formally assigned to St. Malachy's during his residence there.

Mary McMenamin, the parish religious education director, said: ''Personally and professionally, I feel positive that this single allegation against Father Ward will be proven absolutely false.''

The Rev. Philip B. Earley, pastor of St. Thomas's in Wilmington, could not be reached yesterday, but speaking about Buntel he told The Sun of Lowell: ''He worked here. He did a fine job. He'd come in here once a week, pay the bills, and that's the extent of it.''

Forry, a substitute priest, had been a full-time chaplain at MCI-Concord, the state prison, from 1995 to 1999. Justin Latini, a Department of Correction spokesman, said Forry submitted his resignation in June 1999. Latini said he did not know the reason.

A parishioner at St. Francis of Assisi Church in Dracut said she was not surprised to learn that Power had been removed from his post in Wellesley. Power served in Dracut for about six years.

''He just disappeared in the middle of the night. For a while after that, we didn't have a pastor,'' she recalled. ''The whole thing was weird to begin with. I wasn't surprised by this.''

This story ran on page A7 of the Boston Globe on 2/9/2002.
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