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Twenty-Six More Men Added to Rev. Birmingham Abuse Lawsuit

May 1, 2002 | AP

The number of alleged victims of a now-dead priest bringing suit against the Archdiocese of Boston continued to grow, mirroring two other cases of priests who were transferred from parish to parish despite allegations of sexual abuse.

More than two dozen men from four Roman Catholic parishes have joined the lawsuit against the archdiocese, alleging they were sexually abused as children by the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, a priest known for his flashy black convertible and wrestling with boys.

Attorney Robert Sherman said 26 alleged victims of Birmingham, who died in 1989, would be added to the lawsuit against the archdiocese; Cardinal Bernard F. Law; Monsignor John Jennings, and Manchester, N.H. Bishop John B. McCormack. That would bring the total number of victims bringing suit to 40.

The suit alleges that after parents told church officials about Birmingham, he was just moved to another parish.

The charges are similar to those against defrocked priest and convicted child molester John J. Geoghan, accused in lawsuits of abusing 130 children, and the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, a former ``street priest'' also accused of abuse.

Court documents released in January showed the archdiocese reassigned Geoghan to other parishes despite allegations against him. He is now serving a 9-to-10 year prison sentence after being found guilty of indecent assault and battery.

In Shanley's case, documents show that church officials knew allegations against him, and of his support for sex between men and boys, when they appointed him as pastor of a suburban Boston parish.

Gary Bergeron, 39, of Lowell, said he and his brother were shocked to learn that church officials moved Birmingham to their parish of St. Michael after allegedly being told of previous abuse.

``They just gave him a new batch of victims, and when he left St. Michael's, they gave him a new batch of victims,'' Bergeron said. ``I personally want Cardinal Law here. I want him to stay here, I want him to clean up this mess.''

Birmingham also served at parishes in Sudbury, Salem, Boston's Brighton neighborhood, Gloucester and Lexington.

McCormack, who was director of ministerial personnel in the Boston archdiocese from 1984 to 1994, has been accused in lawsuits of knowing priests were abusing boys and failing to intervene.

Manchester diocese spokesman Pat McGee reiterated earlier statements that McCormack had no knowledge of Birmingham's alleged abuse.

''(Bishop McCormack) did not see anything while he served with Father Birmingham that made him suspicious that any abuse was occurring,'' McGee said Tuesday.

Jennings, who dealt with personnel issues at the archdiocese, allegedly rebuffed parents who told him in 1970 that Birmingham was abusing their children. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

Since allegations of sexual abuse against him were made public, Shanley has had nothing to say about the charges, or the hundreds of pages of documents including letters, personnel files and apparent journal entries.

That was expected to change Wednesday in Middlesex Superior Court, when an attorney for Shanley was expected to argue a motion seeking to keep his psychiatric records private.

Attorney Frank Mondano filed the motion Monday in anticipation of the hearing, on whether a family that has sued Shanley for alleged sexual abuse of their son has the right to view Shanley's records.

Other motions, including one seeking to videotape a June 5 deposition of Law, will also be discussed at the hearing.

Shanley is scheduled to be deposed on Thursday. Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who is representing the family whose son was allegedly a victim, has said it is unlikely that Shanley will show up.

Neither Mondano nor Shanley, who lives in San Diego, returned phone messages Tuesday.

In a related development, a Lowell pastor released a statement clarifying comments he made in his parish bulletin about the archdiocese's response to the crisis.

The Rev. Albert L. Capone, pastor at St. Michael's Parish, wrote in the church bulletin last weekend that the parish would not participate in two major archdiocese fund-raisers, including Law's ambitious $300 million Promise for Tomorrow campaign, and would instead concentrate on tending to the needs of abuse victims.

But on Tuesday, Capone released a statement saying he supports Law and the archdiocese, and that the church was only postponing, not canceling, its participation in the campaigns.

``In no way were my words or actions ever intended to undermine or question the leadership of the Archdiocese of Boston or our Archbishop, Cardinal Law,'' he said.

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