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Spotlight Report

Letters show fear of scandal in '84 alleged abuse case

By Michael Rezendes and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 12/19/2002

 In-depth
Top church officials, such as Bishop John B. McCormack, have been implicated in systematic abuse coverups.  
Coverage of archdiocese coverups
Seven months after Bernard F. Law arrived in Boston as the new diocesan archbishop in March 1984, he wrote an urgent letter to a bishop in Thailand asking for the recall of a Thai priest accused of molesting a 9-year-old girl while assigned to St. Margaret Church in Dorchester.

Law's letter did not mention any concern that the priest, the Rev. Peter S. Kanchong, might molest more children. Instead, it noted that a criminal complaint had been filed against the priest and focused on the risk of scandal for the church and the damage to Kanchong's reputation.

''Father Peter now has a charge of child molestation against him,'' Law wrote in his October 1984 letter. ''His continued presence in the Archdiocese of Boston runs the risk of serious personal harm and grave scandal for the church.''

Law also referred to a sympathetic probation officer who was attempting to handle the case ''in such a way as to help Father Peter and avoid scandal to the Church and the priesthood.'' He concluded that recalling Kanchong to his native Thailand ''may be the only way for him to cooperate in salvaging his priesthood and his reputation.''

The letter was included in church files on priests accused of sexual misconduct that were released yesterday by lawyers with the firm of Greenberg Traurig, which represents about half of the 500 people with active sexual molestation claims against the Boston Archdiocese.

A year before Law wrote his letter to Bishop Joseph Thabping of Thailand's Ratchaburi Diocese, Kanchong's right to say Mass and act publicly as a priest had been removed by Law's predecessor, the late Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros.

Medeiros had received complaints from priests who said they found it difficult to get along with Kanchong. And Chancery officials had received a 1983 warning about Kanchong from his Thai bishop, who wrote that Kanchong had been an orphan and ''nurtured ill feeling'' toward those priests and other people who, he thought, did harm or did not give due help to him.''

But Chancery officials did not seek to have Kanchong recalled to Thailand until a Dorchester family filed a complaint against him in Dorchester District Court and the Chancery had received information that Kanchong might have molested some of the 9-year-old girl's brothers and sisters.

Still, even though church officials in Thailand agreed to order Kanchong back to Asia, he has remained in Boston, where he purchased a Dorchester home and, for a time, took out newspaper ads in which he advertised himself as a priest giving tours of Italy and Spain in which he guaranteed a ''Papal audience.''

Church records do not say how the criminal complaint against Kanchong, who still lives in Dorchester, was resolved. But last night Barbara Sidorowicz, the Dorchester mother who, with her husband, filed the 1984 complaint, said a probation officer assigned to Kanchong telephoned her in 1985 to say that, although Kanchong would no longer be allowed to function as a priest, he would remain free and had secured a job with an agency that cared for the mentally impaired.

''I burst out crying,'' Sidorowicz said in an interview last night. ''I just said to him, how can he be allowed to work with the handicapped after what he did to my children?''

In a separate interview, two of Sidorowicz's children said they had been repeatedly molested by Kanchong for several years. John D. MacPherson, now 35, said the abuse began when he was an altar boy. Kanchong, he said, would invite him into his room at the St. Margaret's rectory and pay him 25 cents for each kiss on the lips.

The abuse grew more serious, MacPherson said, and continued until he was about 13 years of age and began resisting Kanchong. At about that time, family members say, Kanchong began turning his attention to MacPherson's younger sister Alexa, now 27.

Alexa said that Kanchong began molesting her when she was 3 or 4 years old, that he frequently masturbated in her presence, and that the abuse continued until she was about 9 years old, when her father caught Kanchong attempting to rape her in the family's Dorchester home. That discovery by John F. MacPherson, now 76, led to the criminal complaint.

Reached at his Dorchester home last night, Kanchong denied molesting either of the MacPherson children. ''I didn't do anything,'' he said. ''Do you have evidence? Do you have witnesses?''

Records on the ministry of the late Rev. Samuel J. Lombard were also released yesterday but the records contained no evidence that substantiates allegations made against the priest.

Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com. Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@globe.com.

This story ran on page A32 of the Boston Globe on 12/19/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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