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Priest discussed leaving order

Time of turmoil preceded charges

By Matt Carroll and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 1/17/2003

The late Rev. William J. Cummings, who has been accused of molesting two youths while assigned to churches in Somerville and Newton in the early 1980s, had told church officials a few years before that he wanted to leave the priesthood because he felt he was ''living hypocritically.''

Church documents released yesterday do not specify what Cummings meant by that phrase, but they do make it clear that the years leading up the alleged abuses were a time of serious turmoil in his life.

Indeed, Cummings, who died in 1994, agreed to remain a priest after meetings in 1979 with the late Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros and other church officials.

Medeiros assigned him to St. Catherine of Genoa Church in Somerville, where he served as associate pastor until 1983. According to a lawsuit filed in June, Cummings molested a 10-year-old boy who had come to him to complain about being sexually abused by a CYO coach in 1982.

Cummings has also been accused of rape by Paul R. Edwards of Winchendon. Edwards, in a lawsuit that he filed last year and subsequently dropped, said the incident occurred on an overnight youth trip to New York City in December 1982, though he later said it might have been on a subsequent church-sponsored ski trip.

It is the Edwards accusation that has drawn particular attention to Cummings's career, because Edwards also said he was abused between 1980 and 1985 by Monsignor Michael Smith Foster. Edwards withdrew his lawsuit against Foster in September, after questions emerged about the credibility of his claim, and the church cleared Foster.

But the case remains a source of controversy as some victims and their advocates believe Edwards was unfairly doubted and that the church acted too quickly to exonerate Foster. Some want the church to reopen the Foster probe. The church has no plans to reopen the investigation into Edwards's charges against Foster unless new evidence surfaces, said the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the church.

The Cummings file portrays him as a man who faced a period of self-doubt and challenge in his role as a priest - a period which overlaps the time of the alleged abuses.

''He is having personal problems which he did not wish to discuss,'' according to unsigned notes dated Feb. 13, 1979, from a conversation between a church official and Cummings. ''He feels he is living hypocritically. He needs some time to think without tension.''

Instead of leaving the priesthood, Cummings decided to take a year's leave of absence from his work as chaplain at Marian High School in Framingham. But before the year was out, Cummings set up a meeting with Medeiros to discuss his future. ''Bill had a good visit'' with Medeiros, according to other unsigned handwritten notes, and had agreed to being reassigned as a priest - to the Somerville parish.

According to the Cummings file, filed in Suffolk County court yesterday, the Rev. John F. Carr, who was pastor of St. Catherine's, had a disagreement with Cummings and wanted Cummings removed as associate. While the documents do not detail the reason for the disagreement, Carr said yesterday the dispute had nothing to do with any inappropriate behavior.

One unnamed church official, whose notes were included in the documents released yesterday, felt that the archdiocese should have forced Carr to leave St. Catherine's and allowed Cummings to remain. ''Cummings gd. w/kids ... [altar] boys esp.'' the notes read.

From St. Catherine's, Cummings was transferred in 1983 to Our Lady Help of Christians Church in Newton, where Edwards was a member of the youth group.

Matt Carroll can be reached at mcarroll@globe.com. Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at kurkjian@globe.com.

This story ran on page B7 of the Boston Globe on 1/17/2003.
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