Back to Boston.com homepage Arts | Entertainment Boston Globe Online Cars.com BostonWorks Real Estate Boston.com Sports digitalMass Travel The Boston Globe Spotlight Investigation Boston.com Abuse in the Catholic Church
HomePredator priestsScandal and coverupThe victimsThe financial costOpinion
Cardinal Law and the laityThe church's responseThe clergyInvestigations and lawsuits
Interactive2002 scandal overviewParish mapExtrasArchivesDocumentsAbout this site
 Latest coverage

April 7
Vt. church in record settlement

March 14
In Albany, bishop profile raised
Book Review: Guard of lies

February 28
Church hierarchy faulted
More than 80% of victims male

February 27
Diocese gives abuse data
Abuse peaked in '60s
2d man to aid Dupre case

February 26
Alleged victim to aid probe

February 24
Sniezyk clarifies his remarks

February 23
Prelate: Harm unrecognized

February 21
Springfield report questioned

February 20
Lawyer: Sermon riled accuser

February 17
4% of priests in US accused

February 12
Bishop resigns after claims

February 6
Arlington priest cited in suit

Earlier stories

Search for:
Time period:

Spotlight Report

Church kept priest's note of apology from victim

By Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 2/12/2003

 Text of McDonald's letter

Dear [Name deleted]:

I am writing to express my sorrow for the pain I have caused you. I remember you as a wonderful girl from a very kind family. I am sorry for violating their trust in me by my improper advances to you. I wish it had never happened, but I must admit it did and I acknowledge my guilt. Please try to forgive me for something which was wrong in my past and which has caused me also much sorrow. I hate to do anything that hurts other people.

So, in your kindness I ask your forgiveness if you can forgive me. I have prayed often for you and have asked God to forgive me and to direct me in my life. I will always pray that God will bless you in many ways to make up for the pain I have caused you.

Sincerely,
Fr. Jim McDonald

All she really wanted was an apology.

Only 14 when she was fondled by a priest she knew as a family friend, the woman suffered through three decades of pain before she brought her case to the church.

She asked for some help paying for her therapy, and she asked for an expression of remorse from the Rev. James T. McDonald, the man who molested her.

And McDonald, the former rector of Holy Cross Cathedral in the South End, did confess to her and beg her forgiveness in a letter written in June 1997, two years before his death.

But the church never mailed it. Instead, church officials decided to meet with her in person, offering her an expression of sorrow but not revealing that the priest had written her.

In his letter, McDonald was forthright about his guilt.

''I remember you as a wonderful girl from a very kind family,'' he wrote. ''I am sorry for violating [your parents'] trust in me by my improper advances to you. I wish it had never happened, but I must admit it did and I acknowledge my guilt.''

The woman learned of McDonald's letter only yesterday, when it was included in the public release of his personnel file by the Boston law firm of Greenberg Traurig, which represents about 260 alleged victims of clergy abuse. The firm sought the records as part of its effort to prove that the church had a pattern of protecting abusive priests from accountability.

The woman, in an interview, said she was astonished to learn that McDonald had written a letter of apology to her and cried after she was read its contents.

''For so much of my life, I have been waiting to hear someone say to me that what happened to me was not because of something that I had done or said,'' she said. ''I just can't understand why they wouldn't have given me that letter.''

McDonald, who died in 1999 at age 72, had abused the woman while he was assigned to St. Ann's Church in Peabody in 1965 and 1966, and perhaps later when he was transferred to a Waltham church. A close friend of her parents and a frequent visitor at the family's home in a community north of Boston, McDonald ''caressed, fondled and involved her in sex play'' for several months until she complained to her parents.

File records show that the 14-year old was not the only woman whom McDonald abused during his 45 years as a priest. In 1994, according to a memo written by the Rev. John B. McCormack, then Cardinal Bernard F. Law's principal aide handling sexual abuse cases, McDonald acknowledged ''fondling other young girls.'' The last fondling, he said, was in the late 1970s.

In 1994, the chaplain at Lawrence General Hospital wrote to the Boston Archdiocese, saying a woman hospitalized there for psychiatric and drug addiction problems also complained of being abused by McDonald when she was 10 years old. ''She has a problem with authority and blames her broken life on the episodes with Fr. McDonald,'' the Rev. Paul R. Franz wrote to the archdiocese.

Because of the complaints, the archdiocese removed McDonald from active ministry in 1994.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, declined to comment on any of the information contained in McDonald's files.

Roderick MacLeish Jr., Greenberg Traurig's chief counsel on the clergy abuse cases, said after reviewing the file that the church's handling of McDonald's case ''shows again a lack of common decency in dealing with a victim.''

MacLeish and other lawyers said they surmised the reason the archdiocese did not turn over McDonald's letter of apology to the victim was to avoid providing her conclusive evidence of being abused if she did file a lawsuit.

''It sounds like legitimate advice that a lawyer would give his client: Don't do anything that would admit your liability,'' said Arnold R. Rosenfeld, former chief counsel of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Overseers. ''It would be up to the archdiocese to proceed on moral or legal grounds.''

The decision not to mail McDonald's letter of apology was made by the Rev. William F. Murphy, the aide to Law handling sexual abuse cases at that time. Murphy, in 1997, told McDonald it would not be necessary to send the letter because he planned to meet personally with the victim and ''convey the sorrow you expressed so well'' to her.

Recalling the meeting with Murphy, the victim said, ''He told me as best as he could that the archdiocese was sorry for what had happened to me,'' she said. ''But I was still angry because of all the problems I had gone through because of this.''

In 1999, her anger rose again when she read that McDonald had died and that Law would preside at his funeral. Concerned she might cause a scene at the Mass, church officials arranged for her to meet with Law. But she said his remarks left her feeling disgusted.

''He said the same apologies, but when he tried to tell me that McDonald had done much good in his life ... I couldn't listen anymore. It was just the same old excuses.''

Stephen Kurkjian can be reached at kurkjian@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/12/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Advertise | Contact us | Privacy policy