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Spotlight Report

Spotlight Report   FOLLOW-UP

A father laments deference to priest

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 5/2/2002

CANTON - At St. Gerard Majella Church, Kenneth A. MacDonald was a constant presence, to the parish's substantial benefit: a lector at Sunday Mass, a religious education teacher, a member of the Parish Council, and a force in St. Gerard's effort to build a school for the poor in Haiti.

For MacDonald, his wife, Eileen, and the nine children they raised, the parish was a major part of their lives, with its pastor and priests afforded extraordinary respect for the example they set and the work they did.

But now, as he lies gravely ill with heart disease, MacDonald wonders whether his deference to his church, so commonplace a generation ago, caused him to be too forgiving. In 1980, his 14-year-old son, Bryan, confided to him that the Rev. Peter R. Frost had taken him to Frost's parents' home, given him alcohol, and then allegedly molested him.

For all the anguish that incident and so many others like it have caused the victims, and now their church, there is an extra measure of pain for parents: Many wonder whether they missed signals about what was happening to their children. Others found out at the time, but kept quiet out of shame and guilt. MacDonald confronted Frost, but accepted his word that he was getting help.

MacDonald, who is 72, now wishes he had gone to police. ''It's bothered me all along. I let him get away with it. I ended up hiding his problem,'' he lamented in a recent interview. ''We had so much respect for priests.''

His wife interjected: ''That's 20-20 hindsight. It was the church that hid him.''

Frost's 1980 assurance notwithstanding, another Canton man has given the Globe a detailed account of how Frost allegedly molested him in an upstairs room at St. Gerard's rectory in 1985. The second victim said he and his father complained to the pastor, the Rev. William R. Coen, who said he would arrange to have Frost receive counseling. Coen died earlier this year.

Frost, 62, who was removed from parish ministry in 1992 and has been listed on sick leave since, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, yesterday expressed compassion for the MacDonalds, and for other victims of priests who are tormented that some priests went on to molest others. ''These stories of what happened to people are horrific, and they make you wish you could take it all back,'' Coyne said.

After checking with other church officials, Coyne said Frost was among scores of priests whose names were turned over to prosecutors because of allegations of sexual misconduct against them. In Frost's case, Coyne said, the church is now ''very much aware that he had been involved in the abuse of minors.''

Yesterday, Bryan MacDonald became the latest of scores of adults to assert in lawsuits that they were sexually abused as children by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston. Since January, more than 500 alleged victims of priests have retained lawyers to press claims against the archdiocese and some of its priests.

In the MacDonald lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Boston attorney Douglas K. Sheff charged that the archdiocese knew about Frost's sexual abuse of children before Bryan MacDonald was molested. And Sheff said in an interview that he has little doubt that Frost's 1992 removal from parish duty was prompted by his history of molesting minors.

The MacDonalds, father and son, said that they have talked a great deal about the issue in recent months, as the elder MacDonald's health has worsened and the priest abuse scandal has escalated.

Bryan, who is now 36 and lives in San Diego, said he has had serious psychological problems as a result of the abuse. Both he and his father said they believed it was important to speak publicly about what happened to their family.

''In 1980, my Dad did about all that could reasonably be expected when he confronted Frost, when you think about the way Catholics of his generation were conditioned to think about priests,'' Bryan MacDonald said.

Early that year, when Bryan was a high school freshman, he got a part-time job answering the rectory phone. Frost, he said, befriended him, even tickled him a couple times, but he thought little of it.

One evening, Frost asked him to take a ride with him to his parents' home in the Readville section of Hyde Park. There, according to the lawsuit, Frost coaxed the boy into getting drunk and then orally raped him.

''I was so shaken up, I told my cousin,'' Bryan MacDonald recalled. ''He told my aunt and uncle, and they told Dad.'' Ken MacDonald remembers taking his son outside and drawing the truth out of him. ''As soon as I found out, I felt like shooting Frost,'' he said. He instructed his son to remain home, and drove to the rectory.

''He was in the rectory. We went into his office. I was very upset. I told him, `I couldn't believe this happened.' There was no denial. He admitted it. He said, `I'm caught.' I asked him how he could have done it, and I got no answer,'' MacDonald said. Frost told him he was getting psychiatric help, and led him to believe his superiors were helping him.

From time to time, MacDonald recalled, ''I spoke to Father Frost about it. I'd ask him, `How's your problem going?' He'd say he was fine.''

But five years later, in 1985, Frost allegedly molested a 15-year-old boy who then held the same part-time job - answering the rectory phone, according to the victim, who discussed the incident on condition that he not be identified. Under Globe policy, alleged victims of sexual abuse are not identified without their consent.

The victim, who is now 31, said Frost asked him to come upstairs, where he said he found the priest in a bathtub. Frost asked him to wash his back. He said he was ''caught off guard,'' and complied. After that, he said, he was in a daze. Frost emerged from the tub, persuaded him to watch a pornographic video, and then molested him.

Recalling the incident, the man said he left the room, went back downstairs, wrote a note saying, ''I quit,'' placed it in Frost's mail slot and then went home and told his parents.

''They were shocked, but they assured me I hadn't done anything wrong. My Dad said he was proud of me that I had quit and walked out,'' the man said. After he and his father related the incident to Coen, the pastor asked him to leave the room. Coen then told his father that he would make sure that Frost received counseling.

In 1988, Frost was transferred to St. Elizabeth's in Milton for three years, according to the archdiocese's annual directories, then to St. Anne's in Readville for a year before being placed on sick leave.

The 31-year-old man said he has felt helpless for years. ''I always felt that nothing could be done. Now I am glad that something is being done,'' he said, though he added that he will not file a claim himself.

Bryan MacDonald also expressed relief that people will now know what happened. ''It angers me that he has gotten away with this for all these years. The only reason is, he's a priest. If he were anyone else, he would be in jail.''

Walter Robinson can be reached at wrobinson@globe.com.

SPOTLIGHT CONTACT

INFORMATION

The Boston Globe Spotlight Team would like to hear from readers with information about this issue. The Spotlight telephone number is (617) 929-3208.

Confidential messages can also be left at (617) 929-7483.

The e-mail address for the Spotlight Team is spotlight@globe.com.

Past articles on this issue can be seen online at www.boston.com/globe/spotlight. The online section also contains letters and documents about the abuse cases, video, polls, and message boards.

CONTACTS FOR COUNSELING

Victims of sexual abuse can receive free and confidential advice by calling the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center. The number is (617) 492-7273.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 5/2/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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