The latest release of records in the ongoing abuse scandal in the Catholic church includes a letter of apology from a priest to a woman he was accused of fondling when she was 14, but other documents appear to show the letter was never given to her.
The alleged victim had complained to church officials in 1996 that she had been molested by the Rev. James McDonald. McDonald later admitted fondling four or five teenage girls.
“I remember you as a wonderful girl from a very kind family. I am sorry for violating their trust in me by my improper advances to you,” McDonald wrote in 1997 after the woman requested an apology. “I wish it had never happened, but I must admit it did and I acknowledge my guilt.”
Other documents in his personnel file, however, indicated that the letter was never given to her. McDonald died in 1999.
The personnel file was made public Tuesday by lawyers representing alleged victims of another priest, the Rev. Paul Shanley. The lawyers are using files from McDonald and other priests to try to show a pattern of negligence by church officials in their handling of sexual abuse allegations.
The first allegation against McDonald noted in his file was received in 1993 by a woman who said she was abused by the priest when she was 10. Church officials corresponding about the allegation seemed to dismiss it, writing that she had “issues of reliability” and had had a troubled life of drugs and prostitution.
A memo in McDonald’s file says the woman attributes the problems in her life including drug use, prostitution and shoplifting to the molestation by McDonald. “The question of (the victim’s) reliability was raised,” a church official wrote in the memo.
McDonald was still sent to a treatment facility. He also resigned from St. James Parish in Stoughton, where he was the pastor, and church officials instructed him to refrain from all priestly activities.
But for the next five years, church officials struggled to keep track of McDonald, who traveled extensively in the United States and abroad. At one point, church officials wrote him a letter, urging him to move out of his cousin’s house, where he had been living, because she had young children.
Donna Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Boston archdiocese, did not immediately return a call seeking comment on the records.
In the case of the woman to whom McDonald wrote the letter of apology, church officials agreed to settle with her for $37,000 to pay her therapy costs.
However, when McDonald died, church officials rejected another request from her that the then-Boston Archbishop, Cardinal Bernard Law, refuse to officiate at McDonald’s funeral. The woman told church officials that she and her family were outraged that Law would officiate at the funeral Mass of someone who “didn’t deserve to be a priest.”
“(She) said she will not sit back and allow this to take place,” Bishop William F. Murphy, then Law’s delegate, explained in a confidential memo placed in McDonald’s file on March 10, 1999. “I told her she did not have the freedom to make this demand, that Fr. McDonald is entitled to a Christian burial and that the Cardinal would be there.”
Law was the principal celebrant at McDonald’s funeral Mass two days later.
Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. said Law and other church officials “marginalized” the woman’s request that Law refuse to officiate at McDonald’s funeral.
“By that time, there were both numerous and admitted allegations about Father McDonald’s sexual molestation of girls, and the church was fully aware of this,” he said.
Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in December, after nearly a year of revelations about how he and other church officials transferred offending priests from parish to parish rather than removing them from positions where they continued to have access to children.