The clergy sex abuse scandal rocking the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and the church in America deepened Wednesday with revelations of alleged cover-ups by top church officials.
Once-secret church documents released under court order disclose that church higher-ups were far more aware of abuse by priests — including one who traded drugs for sex and another who claimed to be Christ to have sex with young girls studying to be nuns — than previously admitted.
The latest disclosures come as archdiocese officials including Cardinal Bernard Law were expected to discuss Wednesday the possibility of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in the wake of some 450 suits filed by alleged victims of abuse by priests.
The files, which the church unsuccessfully went to court to keep secret, were made public Tuesday by lawyers for alleged victims of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley. A judge had criticized the church for trying to avoid her order to produce the documents.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., the attorney for about half of the plaintiffs, released 2,200 pages of personnel files involving eight priests. Another 8,000 pages involving more than 50 other priests were expected to be released in the near future.
“These documents prove that the cover-up is ongoing to this minute,” said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests.
“It is very clear from the documents that Cardinal Law and top diocesan officials knew far more, far earlier, about far more priests and their abusive behavior than officials have ever let on,” Clohessy said after MacLeish’s news conference.
Clohessy said church officials “did so very little to protect not just innocent children, but adults, boys and girls, church employees, and regular lay people.”
MacLeish said that among the mountain of documents was one from the Vatican that said the church’s priority was to have an accused priest transferred to a region where parishioners would not be aware of his abusive past.
“This is the first time we’ve seen actual Vatican documents referencing the importance of avoiding scandal when a priest is identified as a sexual perpetrator,” MacLeish said.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said the details unveiled in the documents were “horrendous,” but declined specific comment because of the “ongoing litigation.”
The documents also disclosed that Law’s predecessor, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, had covered up for molesting priests before Law came to Boston in 1984.
One priest, the Rev. Robert M. Burns, had “trouble with boys” in the early 1980s while in the diocese of Youngstown, Ohio, according to the documents. Despite having this information, Medeiros reassigned him to a parish in Boston in 1982.
Burns later was sentenced to 3 years in prison in New Hampshire for molesting a boy.
MacLeish said the files also show that Medeiros reassigned other priests to positions where they continued to have contact with children despite being aware of allegations of clerical sexual abuse against them.
Another priest, the Rev. Robert V. Meffan, allegedly molested several teenage girls aspiring to become nuns more than 30 years ago, according to allegations the archdiocese received in the late 1980s and early 1990s. According to the files, Meffan encouraged the girls to become “brides of Christ,” telling them they were making love to Jesus Christ himself.
Meffan, who described himself as the “second coming of Christ,” admitted his relationships with the girls in Wednesday’s Boston Globe and Herald.
“What I was trying to show them is that Christ is human and you should love him as a human being,” said Meffan, 73. “They were wonderful girls.”
He said his relationships to the girls involved intimate touching and kissing, but not intercourse because that would violate his vow of celibacy.
“I always felt that to destroy celibacy you really had to have intercourse,” Meffan said, according to the Globe.
When Meffan retired in 1996, Law wrote a glowing letter praising his ministry.
“We are truly grateful for your priestly care and ministry to all whom you have served during those years,” Law wrote. “Without doubt over these years of generous care, the lives and hearts of many people have been touched by your sharing of the Lord’s Spirit.”
Another priest, the Rev. Richard A. Buntel, was identified to church officials in 1983 as a drug addict known to parishioners as “pothead.”
The files indicate Buntel plied young parishioners with alcohol, marijuana and cocaine, and admitted having sex with at least one teenager and with adult men.
Despite warnings about his proclivities, Buntel was reassigned and remained a priest for another decade. He was removed in 1994.
While Law said in January that only a “very small minority” of priests had been removed as a result of abuse allegations, Clohessy accused the cardinal of “simply not telling the truth.”
Clohessy said Law wanted the public to believe the few cases revealed at that time “were aberrations,” but that the new documents “obviously shows that they’re the norm, not the aberration.”