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Spotlight Report

Lawsuit alleges abuse by 2 priests

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 8/17/2002

 In-depth
Accused of abuse and absolved, Msgr. Michael Smith Foster returned to parish work sobered by his experience.  
Coverage of the Foster case
A Winchendon man alleged in a lawsuit filed this week that he was sexually molested as a Newton teenager by two priests during the same period - one a monsignor and canon lawyer who is the judicial vicar of the Archdiocese of Boston and the other a priest who has since died of AIDS.

Paul R. Edwards, 35, asserted in the lawsuit that Monsignor Michael Smith Foster, who was then a newly ordained priest at Sacred Heart Church in Newton, molested him numerous times between 1980 and 1985 in Foster's room at the rectory and that he and Foster slept together in the room.

The 47-year-old Foster, in his role as the archdiocese's chief canon lawyer, has been called upon this year to advise Cardinal Bernard F. Law on canon law issues related to the sex abuse scandal.

In the lawsuit, filed in Suffolk Superior Court, Edwards also alleged that he was anally raped during a youth group trip to New York City in December 1982 by the Rev. William J. Cummings. In 1993, Cummings told his congregation at St. John the Evangelist Church in Cambridge, where he was pastor, that he had the virus that causes AIDS. He died a year later.

Attempts yesterday to reach Foster for comment were unsuccessful. A spokeswoman for the archdiocese said the church's lawyers have not been notified of the lawsuit. Since February, 19 other priests have been removed from their positions after allegations of sexual abuse were made against them. But the suspensions do not occur until archdiocesan officials conduct an initial review of the charges.

Eric J. Parker, the attorney for Edwards, said his client was not available for an interview.

Parker did acknowledge that one claim in the lawsuit - that the alleged 1982 rape by Cummings occurred during the same period that Edwards was being molested by Foster - is incorrect. In fact, he said, the several years of molestation by Foster did not commence until after the December 1982 rape, when Edwards was 15.

In the lawsuit, Edwards asserted that after Foster returned to another Newton parish in 1988 after earning his canon law degree, he visited him and told him about the rape by Cummings. Parker said his client confided in Foster because they had developed a friendship.

In an interview with WHDH-TV, which first reported the lawsuit, Edwards said Foster told him to tell no one about the rape.

''He [Foster] was very adamant about stopping me in the story, and he said, `I don't want to hear anymore, I don't want to hear it, I don't want to hear about this.' He said, `Paul, I told you priests are people, too.'''

Edwards also told the television station: ''Whether I am 65 or 35, I will be known as the guy who has been raped by a priest and sexually molested by a second priest.''

In the lawsuit, Edwards says that he was a member of the Catholic Youth Organization at Our Lady Help of Christians Church from about 1980 to 1982, where Cummings was assigned. The rape occurred in a New York City hotel room where he was assigned to stay with Cummings during a CYO trip.

During the same period, which the lawsuit states was between 1980 and 1985, Edwards was a parishioner at Sacred Heart Church in Newton, where Foster recruited him to be an altar boy. The alleged molestation in Foster's rectory room occurred ''on numerous occasions'' during those years.

According to previous news accounts, Edwards has been a paraplegic since a 1993 hockey injury, but has become an accomplished disabled athlete. Edwards was a member of the US Paralympics Team in 1998, competing in the downhill ski event at Nagano, Japan. He finished eighth in the mono-ski event, according to Paul Meznarich, spokesman for the US Paralympics in Colorado Springs.

Meznarich says Edwards is listed in the team's records as having the most severe level of disability, impairment of his lower limbs that provides him no functional sitting balance.

Foster is a recognized authority on annulments. His book, `Annulment: The Wedding that Was: How the Church Can Declare a Marriage Null,'' was published in 1999 by Paulist Press.

He is also the Presiding Judge of the Metropolitan Tribunal, which hears all annulment cases.

Stephen Kurkjian and Michael Rezendes of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.Walter Robinson can be reached at wrobinson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A6 of the Boston Globe on 8/17/2002.
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