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Spotlight Report

Reinstated monsignor questions policies

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 11/1/2002

 In-depth
Accused of abuse and absolved, Msgr. Michael Smith Foster returned to parish work sobered by his experience.  
Coverage of the Foster case
After weathering an unfounded accusation of sexual misconduct and two church investigations, Monsignor Michael Smith Foster yesterday returned to his post at the Boston archdiocese with a host of unanswered questions about the fate of others who may be falsely accused.

''I think every priest at some level is fearful that someone could make a false accusation against them and is unsure of how they should respond and how the archdiocese should respond,'' Foster told the Globe. ''I think those concerns have been heightened for everyone.''

Foster, who was reinstated to active ministry Wednesday evening after two months of defending himself, also said his ordeal has underscored the concerns of priests throughout the archdiocese who have complained about Church procedures used to investigate claims of clergy sexual abuse.

''It raises a lot of questions for priests. What's the process? Does it work?'' said Foster, the archiocese's top canon law official. Another concern, Foster said, is how the archdiocese will help restore his reputation and those of other priests who may be falsely accused.

Nevertheless, Foster was overjoyed by Cardinal Bernard F. Law's decision to reinstate him. ''I've been waiting and praying and hoping today would arrive and now I'm thrilled to tears,'' he said.

Foster said Law personally informed him of his decision Wednesday evening, paving the way for his return yesterday afternoon to the Chancery where he met with Bishop Walter James Edyvean and, later, with about 20 staffers at the Metropolitan Tribunal. ''There was a nice big round of applause and hugs from everyone,'' Foster said.

Foster's reinstatement brought relief to fellow priests and supporters who attended a Newton parish where he supervised a youth group during the 1980s. But his supporters also criticized church officials who investigated the allegation against him. ''I still don't understand why he wasn't reinstated for good the first time,'' said the Rev. Paul E. Kilroy, pastor of St. Bernard Church in Newton and a member of the executive committee of the Boston Priests' Forum. ''It makes you wonder what's going on with the rest of these investigations.''

Foster is one of 24 Boston priests to leave active ministry since February because of allegations of sexual misconduct, and the only priest to be reinstated or officially notified that an investigation of an allegation has been completed.

His troubles began in August when Paul R. Edwards, a 35-year-old Winchendon man, filed a lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court accusing Foster and the late Rev. William J. Cummings of molesting him while he was at two Newton parishes during the early 1980s. Foster then went on administrative leave.

When the Globe reported that Edwards had a history of fabricating stories, and that friends had offered statements contradicting parts of his allegation, Edwards withdrew his lawsuit and Foster was reinstated. But Edwards subsequently contacted the archdiocese, on Sept.13, with what church officials described as ''new information'' and Foster left active ministry a second time.

Yesterday, the Rev. William W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon and a leader of the Priests' Forum, said he believes Foster should have been reinstated sooner and urged church officials to hire outside consultants to determine how best to restore the reputations of priests who may be falsely accused. ''It should not be left to the goodwill of religious superiors,'' he said.

Public relations specialists contacted by the Globe said the archdiocese is off to a bad start.

Citing a news release about Foster's reinstatement that was distributed at 10 p.m. Wednesday, George K. Regan Jr. of Regan Communications said: ''The cardinal should be willing to stand in front of the TV cameras and say he regrets what happened to Monsignor Foster instead of putting out a press release at 10 p.m. hoping no one picks it up.''

Said Karen Schwartzman, owner of Polaris Public Relations: ''Anyone who knows anything about public relations knows that a 10 p.m. release is designed for minimum exposure.''

Michael Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 11/1/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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