Now that at least 100 priests in the Boston Archdiocese have been publicly accused of molesting children, the archdiocese is facing the prospect that it might have to make public the records of 41 priests who have faced allegations of sexual misconduct with adults.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer representing about 240 alleged victims of childhood clergy abuse, said yesterday that church attorneys have agreed to provide records on all priests whose names were referred to a church review board because of alleged sexual misconduct with adults.
The records, MacLeish said, are central to his effort to show that it was standard practice for Cardinal Bernard F. Law and other church officials to reassign accused priests to new parishes or other church-related work. ”Forty-one is a big number. You have to wonder, in each of these cases, who knew what was going on and what was done,” MacLeish said.
Public church files on five priests who allegedly molested children and also had sexual relations with adults, as well as a sixth priest who had sexual relations with a woman, show that in at least two of the cases, Law and his deputies were forgiving of priests who used their positions to have inappropriate sexual contact with women parishioners.
For instance, the records show that in 1984 Law received a detailed letter from an anguished Franklin parishioner, who alleged that the Rev. Anthony J. Rebeiro had twice sexually assaulted his wife. In reply, Law wrote, ”After some consultation, I find that this matter is something that is personal to Father Rebeiro and must be considered such.”
Rebeiro was placed on administrative leave last August, but only because of a fresh allegation that he had sexually molested a child while serving as a priest in Natick during the 1970s.
In another instance, church officials mistakenly released the personnel file of the Rev. James D. Foley, confusing him with a priest with a similar name who had been accused of sexually molesting a West Roxbury boy.
But Foley’s records include substantial evidence that he had sexual relationships with women in Needham, Calgary, and Haverhill. They also contain an explosive admission made directly to Law in which Foley admitted fathering two children with a woman who took a fatal drug overdose while he was with her in her Needham home.
Nevertheless, Law approved Foley’s return to active ministry, where he remained until his records became public last month and church officials placed him on administrative leave.
The records also contain evidence that in three cases, church officials interceded with local police or court officials after priests were detained or charged because of public sexual conduct with adult men.
MacLeish said he will begin reviewing the files of the 41 priests accused of sexual misconduct with adults today, and will exclude priests who had consensual sexual relationships with adults who were not parishioners. ”We’re going to go through the files very methodically and make sure we don’t turn this into a sexual witchhunt,” MacLeish said.
But MacLeish also said that, given the recommendations of the review board and the decisions of church officials in cases of priests who abused children, he expects many of the files to contain credible allegations that priests used their positions to gain sex with parishioners.
Under an agreement reached with Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the attorney for the Boston Archdiocese, MacLeish said, any file concerning a priest who allegedly used force to obtain sex from an adult parishioner will be included in the public discovery materials in a suit filed by alleged childhood abuse victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.
Files that include allegations of consensual sex between priests and adults who are not parishioners will be considered irrelevant to the case and will not be released, MacLeish said. In cases where priests were accused of having sex with parishioners, and where MacLeish and Rogers can’t agree on whether coercion was involved, Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney will decide whether to make the records public.
The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said he could not comment on the records. ”The policy of the archdioceese is that we don’t discuss ongoing litigation,” he said.
MacLeish has been seeking information about clergy sexual misconduct involving adults since last December, believing that church officials routinely brushed aside such allegations against priests and allowed them to remain in active ministry.
”We’re trying to show there was a pattern and a practice in the archdiocese,” he said.