A Roman Catholic priest has taken a leave of absence at the request of Archbishop Sean O’Malley while the Boston Archdiocese investigates a decades-old allegation of sexual misconduct against a minor.
O’Malley asked the Rev. William M. Walsh to step aside as parochial vicar of St. Mary the Annunciation in Danvers until the investigation is completed, according to the archdiocese.
The alleged abuse occurred decades ago, before Walsh’s present assignment in Danvers, the archdiocese said.
A message left by The Associated Press for Walsh at the church rectory was not immediately returned Saturday.
A call to the archdiocese’s spokesman for further details was not immediately returned.
Walsh, who was ordained in 1971, has twice been cleared of abuse allegations dating to 1980, according to archdiocese files. It is unclear if the latest allegation is related to the previous two.
The archdiocese in March of 1980 had “third-hand” information that Walsh had molested a boy in the congregation at Blessed Sacrament parish in Boston’s Jamaica Plain neighborhood. Walsh, in a meeting with Bishop Thomas Daily, denied the allegation and noted that the boy’s mother had recently had a nervous breakdown after discovering her 6-year-old son had been molested by a local teenager.
The woman herself wrote a letter to Daily about two weeks later in which she praised Walsh and said although two of her sons had been sexually molested, one by an ex-priest, “neither of those incidents had anything to do with Fr. Walsh.”
In April 1980, regional Bishop Daniel A. Hart wrote to Daily to recommend that “nothing further can or should be done.”
Two undated letters sent to archdiocese officials after January 2001 claim Walsh molested boys while he was assigned to St. Edward’s parish in Brockton, according to church files. “You are sick and a disgrace to your collar,” one of the letters said.
Both letters were signed by “one of Father Bill’s Golden Boys.” One letter explained that you were one of Walsh’s Golden Boys when “you have done sexually what he requires.”
Church records dated March 2003 indicate that in neither case did the letter writer make a formal complaint to the archdiocese or initiate legal action.
The archdiocese concluded that “All of the material contained in the priest’s file is founded on rumor, secondhand information, or is anonymous in origin,” and “recommends that this matter be considered closed based on the conclusion that there is a lack of information to conclude that a complaint of sexual abuse exists.”
In September, the Boston archdiocese reached an $85 million settlements with about 540 victims of clergy sex abuse.
A report by state attorney general Thomas Reilly found that about 240 priests in the archdiocese were accused of abuse between 1940 and 2000, and that more than 1,000 children may have been abused by clergy.