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Accused Friar Worked In Marlborough

Dec 18, 2002 | Framingham Metro West Daily News A Franciscan Brother accused of molesting two teenage brothers three decades ago worked at St. Ann's Parish in the early 1990s, but the pastor said the man's tenure there ended when the allegations surfaced.

Brother Kenneth Ghastin, who is now in his 70s, worked at St. Ann's for about two years, until just days before Christmas 1993.

A family had accused him of molesting two brothers in 1974 while teaching at the now-defunct Christopher Columbus High School, a Catholic school in Boston's North End.

In the mid-1990s, the Archdiocese of Boston reached a financial settlement with the family, including a payment of $30,000 to one of the siblings. Soon after, that brother, who had a history of drug problems, died in 1994 of an overdose described in church files as a suicide.

Father Mike Bercik, St. Ann's pastor, said Ghastin was a deacon at St. Ann's and didn't have any problems in Marlborough. The parish had no idea about any allegations when he arrived, Bercik said.

According to Bercik, the parish got a phone call from the archdiocese in December 1993 about the allegations, and within two days Ghastin was gone.

Bercik said the parish never really talked about Ghastin's removal nine years ago. He said he is willing to talk with individual parishioners who have concerns, but doesn't believe in making a big issue of it now.

"Nobody knew about it," Bercik said. "It was a long time ago; he was removed right away. There was really no need. He left the area, and nobody had any contact with him."

During Ghastin's tenure at St. Ann's, Bercik said, the Franciscan brother didn't leave much of an impression. Ghastin helped around the church, and didn't have any specific duties related to children. During his second year, "he was sickly," and had a heart condition that prevented him from being particularly active, he said.

"Kenneth was the type of person who wasn't that friendly," Bercik said. "I mean, he was cordial to people, but he didn't make friendships that easily. So we didn't see the need to talk about it. And it was years ago now. Most of the people have no idea who this man is."

Ghastin has never faced criminal charges for the alleged incidents, and did not return a phone call for this story. He now lives and works at the Mount Alvernia Friary in Wappingers Falls, N.Y., where he has been since leaving Marlborough in the 1990s.

Ghastin catalogues books in the monastery's library, said Father Robert Campagna, provincial father of the Province of the Immaculate Conception.

"He has no contact with children," said Campagna, whose office is based in New York City. He said Ghastin was pulled out of Marlborough as soon as the accusations surfaced in 1993.

News of the decade-old allegations didn't emerge until Monday, when the Boston offices of the law firm Greenberg Traurig released part of Ghastin's personnel file, along with that of nine other priests and brothers who allegedly abused children while working for the Archdiocese of Boston.

Greenberg Traurig is one of several law firms pursing lawsuits against the Catholic Church for alleged sexual abuse of children by priests or other employees working for the archdiocese.

The accusations surrounding Ghastin's alleged behavior took two decades to come out privately, and another decade after that to emerge publicly.

"This was one of the first cases I had heard of at the time, and I don't think that any of us understood how widespread of a problem this was back in the 1990s," said Ronald Gluck, the attorney who represented the Boston-area family and helped them win a settlement against the archdiocese.

According to Gluck and the records released Monday, the two brothers met Ghastin while he was teaching at Christopher Columbus. According to the files, Ghastin allegedly used the death of the boys' father as an excuse to get close to them.

Ghastin allegedly abused both boys, who Gluck said were in their early to mid-teens, but neither brother told the other what had happened for years, Gluck said.

Gluck said that news reports about defrocked priest James Porter, who was convicted several years ago of child molestation, prompted them to confront their past and talk to each other.

After talking to a prosecutor, Gluck said, the family came to the archdiocese and hired him.

According to the archdiocesan files, the brother who eventually died got a settlement of $30,000, though Gluck said that was one of "multiple" settlements reached regarding that family. Gluck said he never became aware of other allegations involving Ghastin and any other children.

According to the church files, the brothers and their mother received counseling through the Franciscans. The files also indicate that Ghastin himself was receiving therapy at some point.

The brother who got $30,000 had long struggled with a substance abuse problem, including heroin, and had been in and out of detox centers for treatment, Gluck said. In his 30s, the brother died of a drug overdose on Nov. 15, 1994, according to church files.

The church files describe the man's death as a suicide, but Gluck said he doesn't know whether the man's death was intentional or the result of an accidental overdose. But he said the sex abuse led to the death of his former client.

"There's no question that the problems he experienced were related to the abuse he suffered at the hands of Brother Ghastin," Gluck said.

According to the files, the man's mother called the archdiocese several months later, complaining that no priests or brothers attended his funeral. She said she also worried about her other son.

"Her fear now is that her 31-year-old son (name omitted) who was also raped by Brother Ghastin, could be influenced by his brother's death," wrote one church official.

According to Gluck, the man's brother has had a better fate, and is still living and working in the state, though he imagines the man still is dealing with his past.

It wasn't clear yesterday how long Ghastin spent at Christopher Columbus, and where else he served. Handwritten notes on Ghastin's file suggested possible connections to other schools in Boston and Marlborough, but both of those school districts said they have no record of him teaching there.

At St. Ann's yesterday, Bercik urged the media and the public not to overreact to the news, citing the age of the case and his belief that no Marlborough parishioners were in danger. Still, he stopped short of defending Ghastin against the allegations.

"Obviously, he has to answer for the allegation that is lodged against him," Bercik said.

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