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Papers Detail Boston Abuse Handling

Jun 5, 2002 | AP

An attorney for alleged victims of sexual abuse said nearly 1,000 pages of newly released priest personnel files show church officials did not deal aggressively even with priests who admitted abuse.

"There's horrific new information," said Roderick MacLeish, an attorney representing alleged victims of retired priest Paul R. Shanley. "This is just a small portion."

A judge forced the Roman Catholic archdiocese to turn over personnel files of 10 priests to attorneys pursuing a lawsuit on behalf of a man who says he was repeatedly raped by retired priest Paul R. Shanley. MacLeish made them public Tuesday.

More than 1,600 pages of Shanley's personnel records already have been released. Shanley is jailed on $750,000 bail on a child rape charge.

MacLeish was scheduled to depose Cardinal Bernard Law on Wednesday on his handling of Shanley, who was transferred between parishes despite openly advocating sex between men and boys. Transcripts of the deposition, which will likely continue on Friday, will not be released immediately.

But the documents released Monday offered more details on the involvement of Law, who has testified that many such matters were handled by deputies.

In one case, Law agreed that a new, tougher policy on accused abusers would not apply retroactively to the Rev. Daniel M. Graham, who had earlier been accused of abuse and acknowledged making mistakes. In another case, Law apparently planned to defend his actions involving one priest, the Rev. Eugene M. O'Sullivan, by saying he had no previous knowledge of the accusations. In a handwritten side note, one of his own bishops questioned whether that was true.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, declined to comment specifically on the latest documents, but said, "Once again, it was part of the protective culture of the church of the time."

He said that culture placed too much importance on protecting priests and not enough on protecting children. Plaintiffs' lawyers say the church bureaucracy put dangerous priests in positions where they could harm children.

In some cases, the documents contained notes from interviews church officials conducted with accusers and letters the archdiocese received about priests.

In other letters, alleged victims expressed their frustration with the way their complaints were being handled.

"We were all made fools of, nothing was done," read one letter in the file on O'Sullivan. "Your concern for Father O'Sullivan is wonderful. But your lack of concern for the young boys of the diocese is appalling."

MacLeish said Graham's case showed that the archdiocese did not take abuse allegations seriously until it instituted a tougher policy after a scandal involving the Rev. James R. Porter in 1992.

"There was apparently in the Archdiocese of Boston a pre-Father Porter policy and a post-Father Porter policy," MacLeish said.

Following 1988 allegations, Graham insisted he had reformed himself.

A later memo said that in 1990, the archdiocese's supervisor of priests, Bishop Robert J. Banks, said he believed Graham's problems had been stress-related and that he had "no problem" assigning Graham a new parish.

After another allegation surfaced in 1992, the archdiocese reopened the case. Graham denied the allegation, but Law restricted him from involvement in parish ministry under a new policy barring anyone who had sexually abused a minor from working with children.

Banks was reported in one document to have remarked that "1990 was pre-Porter and a more forgiving time."

In 1996, officials decided the case had been addressed before the new policy, and Graham was again cleared to work without restrictions. But Graham was suspended from his parish in Quincy this February after Law said all priests who had been accused of abuse would be removed.

The documents also showed:

The archdiocese had received numerous, graphic complaints against the Rev. Ronald H. Paquin when it recommended he return to public ministry in 1997.

Complaints about the Rev. Paul J. Mahan poured into the archdiocese throughout the 1990s. Mahan had been removed from parish duty in Boston in August 1993 but was reassigned to a Cambridge church the following year.

In 1964, the church decided to transfer a priest who admitted an "impropriety" involving boys. Msgr. Thomas Finnegan, then chancellor, wrote that parishioners were to be told "he had been 'working too hard' and 'needed a rest.'"

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