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Spotlight Report

Files highlight church deference on more priests

By Michael Rezendes and Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 12/18/2002

 In-depth
Top church officials, such as Bishop John B. McCormack, have been implicated in systematic abuse coverups.  
Coverage of archdiocese coverups
he Boston Archdiocese took no action against one priest despite graphic evidence - witnessed by two children - of his sexual contact with their mother, welcomed back another who admitted to molesting boys, and quickly reinstated a third even though he had been accused by a fellow priest of letting teenage boys sleep in his rectory bedroom, according to church records made public yesterday.

In one case, church officials suggested the troublesome priest accused of having sex with the woman be allowed to transfer to another diocese. In another, Cardinal Bernard F. Law offered a ''most hearty `welcome back''' to an admitted child molester who was returned to active ministry after being treated for a sexual disorder.

More evidence of the same deferential and forgiving treatment that prompted Law's resignation was apparent in the records of 14 other priests accused of sexual misconduct that were released by lawyers for victims of Rev. Paul R. Shanley.

The documents, delivered to the attorneys by church officials under a court order, provided additional evidence that Law knew of sexual misconduct allegations against priests and allowed them to remain in active ministry.

One priest, the Rev. Gerard E. Creighton, was transferred 20 times in 28 years amid a cascade of complaints from numerous pastors and even an assertion that he had ''homicidal tendencies.'' One parishioner withdrew a sexual misconduct complaint after learning that Creighton carried a gun.

''We're especially afraid of what he might do to the children,'' the parishioner said in a 1977 phone call to chancery officials that was reported to Bishop Thomas V. Daily, now the bishop of the Brooklyn, N.Y., diocese.

The parishioner had previously called to alert church leaders that she had seen two young girls reenacting a sexual act. When she questioned the girls they replied: ''This is the way Father Creighton and their mother make love.''

No action was taken against Creighton. But even earlier, in 1973, a Revere priest serving with Creighton complained to then- Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros that church officials seemed more interested in helping troubled priests such as Creighton than in protecting parishioners.

''Why should so many people have to be abused and insulted and alienated from the church, just so that we can give this man a place to sleep?'' the Rev. John J. McNally wrote. ''We seem to have our values confused.''

Still, in 1984, when Creighton was seeking reinstatement after a leave of absence, the archdiocesan personnel board recommended to Law that ''Father Creighton should be counseled to seek ministry in another diocese.''

Creighton remained an inactive priest. But in 1995, a former nun walked into a Cape Cod furniture store that he owned and operated and accused him of repeatedly molesting her in the late 1950s, when she was a 17-year-old high school student at St. Margaret parish in Dorchester.

A church official writing in a memo to Creighton's file said Creighton denied molesting the former nun or any other woman, but also noted that Creighton ''did reference a couple of times that he would like to kill'' the former nun.

In 1998, the woman accepted a $150,000 financial settlement of her claim from the archdiocese. And she has sued Creighton, in a case that has now made its way to the state Supreme Judical Court, which is looking at statute of limitations issues.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., an attorney with the firm Greenberg Traurig, which released the church files, said, ''This was a potentially violent person carrying a weapon who was castigated by every pastor who worked with him. Why would anyone be thinking in 1984 that he could serve in any capacity?'' Creighton could not be reached. His attorney, Marielise Kelly, denied that he had sexual relations with any woman.

In a separate case, the documents released yesterday also show that the archdiocese used its influence in 1985 and 1986 to arrange a favorable - and private - court disposition when the Rev. Benjamin McMahon was arrested on Cape Cod for performing a sex act with another man.

In handwritten notes and a typed memo, Bishop Daniel A. Hart reported that the Hyannis police chaplain told church officials ''to keep away. ... Police have assured him.'' In a second note, Hart wrote, ''We can keep it from public. ... Prosecutor has pulled papers.'' And in a third note: ''Assured [hearing] will be in judge's chambers and nothing will be done in public.''

The chaplain, Hart wrote, ''indicated that as a result of `connections' and the cooperation of the clerk, there was no publicity about the hearing this week.'' The church records show the case was continued without a finding and that McMahon later left the priesthood. In 1991, the archdiocese received complaints that he had molested three boys in one family during the late 1970s and early 1980s.

In another case, the records show that in 1994, four months after a fellow priest expressed concern that the Rev. Paul W. Hurley had teenage boys sleep over at his rectory room, Law cleared Hurley for return as a pastor in Cambridge, where he served until his indictment on child rape charges in August.

Law ended Hurley's administrative leave in July 1994 after Hurley - who battled alcoholism - confessed to drinking again but denied any sexual activity with teenagers.

The 1994 complaint against Hurley was made by the late Rev. David A. Rittenhouse, who served as his parochial vicar at Blessed Sacrament in Cambridge. Rittenhouse, according to a church memo, reported ''that he was concerned about Paul's relationship with teenage boys from South Boston. They are about age fifteen. They come to the rectory. Sometimes they stay over night and leave in the morning in a meek and sheepish way. Paul was spoken to about this by a priest in the rectory and he continues to do it.''

Hurley was still a pastor on Oct. 24, 2001, when a South Boston man, in a Pennsylvania federal prison for bank robbery, complained that Hurley sexually abused him in 1987 and 1988 during the priest's early years at Blessed Sacrament parish in Cambridge. According to the new records, when the Rev. Charles Higgins, the cardinal's secretary for ministerial personnel, confronted Hurley with the charges a year ago, the priest ''admitted to the activity with [the alleged victim].''

Reached by telephone at his Sandwich home yesterday, Hurley said Higgins's account is incorrect, insisting that he never admitted to sexual abuse. Hurley has pleaded not guilty in Middlesex County to two counts of child rape.

In the case of Rev. Joseph K. Coleman, church records show he admitted to sexually abusing two boys while assigned to St. Angela Church in Mattapan.

In a 1987 memo, the Rev. John B. McCormack, now bishop of the Manchester, N.H., diocese, called the allegations serious. One mother said Coleman had taken her 14-year-old son camping and molested him on several occasions. Confronted with the charge, McCormack wrote, Coleman also admitting to performing sexual acts on another boy, who was 15.

In 1988, McCormack received a favorable psychological assessment of Coleman and recommended he be allowed to work in the Boston Archdiocese. Later that year, Law wrote to Coleman to say he was being reassigned as a chaplain at Saint John of God Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospice, both in Brighton. ''To you I offer a most hearty `welcome back,''' Law wrote.

The records show that Coleman's work was restricted to the chaplaincy. But in 1996 church officials discovered Coleman was saying Mass and hearing confessions at St. Lawrence Church in Brookline, and suspended him from active ministry.

In an interview yesterday, Coleman objected to his removal, attributing it to a ''miscommunication between me and the archdiocese.'' Also released yesterday were church files on 10 additional priests accused of sexual misconduct: the Revs. Anthony L. Buchette, C. Melvin Surette, Andrzej Sujka, Robert (also known as John) Turnbull, Thomas D. Donnelly, Joseph Gilpin, Dennis A. Keefe, Kelvin E. Iguabita, Paul J. Finegan, and James J. Foley.

Stephen Kurkjian and Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 12/18/2002.
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