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Church Papers Reveal Cover-Up

Dec 4, 2002 | Los Angeles Times

For more than 40 years, Catholic Church officials here overlooked abuse ranging from the molestation of girls studying to become nuns to drug use by priests with parish youth to homosexual rape, according to 2,000 pages of archdiocese documents made public yesterday.

The records show that as recently as last year, bishops and archbishops consistently ignored parishioners' complaints while protecting priests and striving to minimize financial damage.

The material released yesterday casts light on offenses and church practices not previously reported, sparking new outrage among victims and their advocates.

The new information "debunks a whole range of excuses that church officials have used: that the allegations were all ancient, that the abuse only concerned boys and that it involved just a handful of priests," said David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.

Archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Morrissey said she could not comment on the allegations but told The Associated Press that some of them are "truly horrible."

Lawyers for the archdiocese at first resisted the edict from Judge Constance Sweeney, but presented plaintiffs' lawyers with 11,000 pages of documents.

Plaintiffs' lawyer Robert Sherman said more of the documents would be released in coming weeks.

The records produced yesterday focused on priests whose cases until now had not come to light. Among them was the Rev. Robert Meffan. Following complaints about him, the late Cardinal Humberto Medeiros recommended as early as 1977 that he seek help from "some professional person." Instead Meffan set up shop as a counselor. By 1985 he was back in service as a parish priest.

The following year, Bishop Robert Banks recorded allegations that Meffan engaged in sexual acts with girls as young as 15 who were preparing to become nuns.

A 1993 memo told how Meffan, under the guise of instructing the girls, would "link spiritual stages with sexual acts, 'what one has to do in order to progress,' and would perform the acts."

For the Rev. Robert Burns, the trail of abuse began in Youngstown, Ohio, where he was a priest from 1975-81. Church officials there determined he had sexually abused young boys, and in 1981 sent him to counseling.

When Burns applied for a temporary position in the Boston archdiocese, James W. Malone, then bishop of Youngstown, alerted archdiocese officials here to Burns' sexual history. Yet Burns was eventually placed in two parishes where he regularly came into contact with minors. Boston authorities did not warn the local churches of his record, even though they had written "problem: little children" in a 1982 internal memo about Burns.

It took nine years for a flurry of accusations to surface that Burns had sexually molested a series of boys. In 1991, Cardinal Bernard Law terminated Burns' assignment in Boston. Burns pleaded guilty in 1996 to sexually molesting two boys in New Hampshire.

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