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Hush, Hush: Church Lawyers Urged Silence on Priest Conduct

Nov 2, 2001 | BOSTON HERALD Workers at St. Agnes Church in Middleton were encouraged by attorneys for the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston not to give information in the probe of child molester Christopher J. Reardon because they feared the pastor's suspected sexual activity with men would expose the church to negligence claims.

The Boston Herald has learned that four church workers testified before an Essex County grand jury that lawyers from the Rogers Law Firm of Boston advised them about two weeks after Reardon's June 2000 arrest that they did not have to share their suspicions about the Rev. Jon C. Martin's activities in the rectory, sources close to the situation said. Martin was Reardon's supervisor.

The workers - three women and a man described as being mostly part-time housekeepers, secretaries and maintenance personnel - told investigators they had found condoms in Martin's second-floor rectory living quarters that led them to believe he was having sex with men who periodically spent the night in Martin's bedroom, sources said.

``(The church lawyers) told these workers they didn't have to cooperate and they were concerned about the liability to the church,'' said one source familiar with the four witnesses' grand jury testimony.

The sources said there is no evidence Martin did anything illegal and described his suspected sexual activities as ``being between consenting adults.''

The investigation also found no evidence Martin was aware of Reardon's crimes, sources said.

The first source said the workers did not suspect Reardon was molesting children, but told investigators and the grand jury they thought it was inappropriate that Reardon was bringing children into his office on the second floor of the rectory, which, like Martin's living space, was supposed to be off-limits to visitors.

Reardon, 29, was sentenced last week to 40-to-50 years in prison after he pleaded guilty to 75 criminal counts involving the rape and molestation of 29 prepubescent boys he met through his jobs at the Middleton church and the Danvers YMCA.

Reardon systematically targeted his young victims - many who had been eagerly entrusted in his care by their parents - and abused them in his Middleton home, church office and the basement of the Danvers YMCA, where he was a swim instructor and summer camp coordinator.

The Rogers Law Firm also tried to persuade Essex County District Attorney Kevin M. Burke and his investigators from looking into Martin's suspected activities, sources said.

``They had no problem with the investigation of Reardon, but they didn't want us investigating the priest and came on very aggressively,'' said the first source.

``Our position was until we knew for sure the priest wasn't involved with what was going on with Reardon, we were going to question these witnesses even if it meant bringing them (involuntarily) before the grand jury.

``We backed them (the Rogers Law Firm) off after that and they didn't get involved again.''

Requests seeking comment from the Rogers Law Firm were not answered.

Officials from the archdiocese could not be reached for comment.

Stephen O'Connell, a spokesman for Burke, declined comment.

Sources said the church workers were ``afraid'' of angering the church as well as fearful of getting involved in the Reardon case.

But they rejected the church lawyers' advice about cooperating and willingly agreed to be interviewed by police and appeared before the grand jury, sources said.

``They felt like they had to sneak around to talk to us,'' said a second source close to the case. ``They felt like they were being pressured not to help us and wanted to meet us in places away from the church.''

The bombshell revelations about Martin could be a major factor in a number of civil negligence suits being prepared by Reardon's victims against the archdiocese that will allege Martin and the church failed to properly supervise Reardon.

Martin, who supervised Reardon in his job as St. Agnes' youth ministry coordinator, took a leave of absence from the Middleton parish last October and the archdiocese announced last winter he would not return.

Sources said he completed a church-sponsored counseling program and remains on ``health leave'' at an undisclosed location.

When questioned before the grand jury, Martin admitted a used condom found in his bedsheets was his, but said he had used it for ``self-gratification,'' sources said.

``It is our understanding (the church) treatment was for his `sexual issues,' '' said the first source.

Sources said the workers reported that Martin periodically had male visitors - many former Essex County jail inmates he had counseled - to his residence area of the rectory.

When Martin was called before the grand jury, he admitted he had violated his own rules by allowing former inmates to sleep in his residence area, sources said.

``I have to believe that if Father Martin was not so involved in what he had going on, then he might have realized what Reardon was doing,'' said the first source.

Martin's testimony also shows he may have disregarded a warning by another priest about Reardon's interaction with children, sources added.

Martin was unable to give plausible answers to investigators' questions about his activities, sources said.

``The reasons he gave for certain things being (in his bedroom) were lame at best,'' said a third source.

Attorney Jeffrey Newman, who represents seven of Reardon's victims, said the archdiocese has responded favorably to his offer to settle his cases without having to file suit.

``They have responded to all our communication, and we've agreed to send them further information so they can analyze the claims,'' said Newman.

``They've expressed interest in coming to the (negotiating) table as soon as possible.'' Bernard Cardinal Law said last week he would have an independent consultant review the archdiocese in an effort to prevent further abuse by church staff in the future.

The reported intrusion of the church's attorneys in the Reardon case still angers investigators, sources said.

``They told them not to cooperate,'' the third source said. ``It seems they were more concerned with the church's liability than they were about the dozens of kids who were raped and molested.''

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