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Spotlight Report

New files show cardinal acting on seven abuse cases

By Michael Rezendes and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 12/10/2002

As the Boston Archdiocese edged closer yesterday to a bankruptcy filing that could suspend action on clergy sexual abuse lawsuits, lawyers for alleged victims released the church personnel files of another seven priests accused of sexual misconduct over the last four decades.

Unlike the records of eight priests released last week, which showed Cardinal Bernard F. Law keeping priests accused of egregious acts of sexual misconduct in active ministry, several of the files released yesterday show Law acting to remove some priests accused of sexual abuse.

But Jeffrey A. Newman of the law firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents about half of the 450 victims with abuse claims against the archdiocese, said the records released yesterday further document a pattern of consistent failure by Law and his top aides to adequately supervise errant priests.

''The records show that the archdiocese did not have an adequate policy in place to recognize and spot these things when they occurred, notwithstanding the fact that Law and his bishops knew there was a significant problem when Law arrived in the archdiocese in 1984,'' Newman said.

Information in the newly released files shows that:

  • The archdiocese removed the Rev. Denis A. Conte from active ministry in 1994 after receiving a $10 million demand letter from a lawyer representing a 26-year-old man who alleged that Conte had sexually abused him from 1979 to 1982, when he was 11 or 12. The case was settled for $150,000 in 1995. The man also alleged that Conte provided him with pornographic books and pictures, tied him to a rectory bed, and performed oral sex on him while telling him he was ''being crucified like Christ.''

    Confronted with the allegation in 1994, Conte admitted that he had shared a bed with the boy and that he had kissed him on the lips, because, he said, it was ''Italian tradition'' to do so. But he denied that he had sexually abused the boy.

  • The Rev. Paul F. Manning, who was found not guilty on criminal charges of sexually assaulting an 11-year-old altar boy in 1994, was later accused by a man and a woman of sexually molesting them when they were minors. Law stripped Manning of his right to say Mass and publicly represent himself as a priest in 1996, after Manning failed to cooperate in a church investigation of charges that he had abused the altar boy.

  • Law allowed the Rev. George C. Berthold, the former dean of St. John's Seminary in Brighton, to take a teaching position at a Catholic college in North Carolina after Berthold had been dismissed for having improper contact with two seminarians at St. John's.

    The files also show that the archdiocese paid the legal expenses of some priests in a manner apparently designed to avoid the scrutiny of the Internal Revenue Service.

    In a 1994 letter to Manning, Monsignor William F. Murphy, then moderator of the curia for the archdiocese, explained that Law had obtained money for a legal assistance fund from an anonymous donor. That money, Murphy explained, was lent to priests needing financial help at an annual rate of 7 percent.

    But Murphy said the loans were made with no due date and would be paid back ''if and when the priest is ever in a position so to do.'' He also said the archdiocese made the payments for legal expenses in the form of a loan ''because if it were not a loan, the priest would have to report it to the IRS as income, as a gift.''

    The files released yesterday included the records of the Rev. Edward J. McDonagh, the Rev. Gary E. Balcom, the Rev. Paul J. Moriarty, and the Rev. William J. Scanlan.

    Some of the files contained only scant information about sexual abuse allegations. For instance, the file on Moriarty, who died in 1982 after serving in 10 assignments during his 34-year career, contains only a single anonymous complaint taken in 1992.

    The file on Scanlan shows he was accused of sexually abusing a girl while at St. James Parish in Stoughton in late 1996 and early 1997. But no criminal charges were brought againt him, and he has passed a lie detector test and denied the accusation.

    And the McDonagh files shows that a single second-hand complaint that he raped a teenage Melrose boy in the early 1960s led to his removal from St. Ann's Parish in West Bridgewater earlier this year.

    Balcom, who died two months ago, was removed from active ministry in 1992, apparently after a single allegation of abuse. A few months later, a former altar boy at Immaculate Conception Church in Weymouth wrote church officials to say he had been molested by Balcom from the time he was in the sixth or seventh grade until he was 17 years old.

    Matt Carroll and Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.

    This story ran on page A34 of the Boston Globe on 12/10/2002.
    © Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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