A Boston lawyer filed suit yesterday charging the Archdiocese of Boston with conspiracy in covering up sexual misconduct by 12 priests over more than 50 years.
The suit, entered in Suffolk Superior Court by Carmen Durso on behalf of 27 plaintiffs, claims church officials knew of criminal acts by eight living and four deceased priests but failed to stop them, and enabled them to abuse again.
“For at least the past 50 years, and continuing to the present time, defendant archbishop, along with others, has engaged in a conspiracy to conceal criminal acts of sexual abuse which were committed by individuals whom it recruited, hired, trained, supervised and retained as clergymen,” the suit states.
Named in the suit are the Revs. Richard T. Coughlin, Robert V. Gale, Edward T. Kelley, Bernard J. Lane, Paul J. Mahan, John E. McLaughlin, Paul R. Shanley and Patrick J. Tague, and the late Revs. Leonard Stanton, Paul Moriarty, Thomas F. Dempsey and Joseph W. Kenney.
Earlier this year, Minneapolis attorney Jeffrey Anderson filed similar suits, including one against the archbishop of Los Angeles, charging conspiracies under the federal RICO, or racketeering, statutes.
But Durso said his action differed from Anderson’s in that he is not calling the church a criminal organization.
“This is a civil conspiracy that’s being alleged, not a criminal conspiracy,” he said of the suit, which charges the church violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights by allowing the abuse to continue.
“They conspired to cover up criminal acts. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether or not that’s a prosecutable crime.”
Paul Martinek, editor of Lawyers Weekly USA, called the case potentially viable but problematic.
“I think it is unique to talk about a conspiracy to violate civil rights,” he said, explaining common law in Massachusetts would require proof the church engaged in intimidation, threats or coercion in perpetuating the abuse.
The Rev. Christopher R. Coyne, a church spokesman, said the archdiocese has yet to receive the suit and could not comment on it.
But he did discuss the inclusion of McLaughlin, who as pastor of St. Benedict’s Parish in Somerville is the only active priest named in the claim.
“At this point, we have no complaint involving a minor, so there is nothing yet to follow up on with regard to our policy on allegations involving priests and children,” Coyne said.
Durso confirmed that, saying the plaintiff in that case is an adult who in June 2001 visited the priest in a pastoral capacity and was groped by him.
But he criticized the archdiocese’s lack of action on the matter, producing an August 2001 letter from church lawyer Wilson Rogers III promising to follow up “shortly,” and another dated April 22, 2002, with the same message.
In addition to its chronological scope, the suit covers a wide geographical range, with allegations stretching from California to LaCrosse, Wis., as well as numerous Boston area parishes.
Those accusations include claims against priests who traveled in and out of the Boston Archdiocese, including Shanley and Dempsey.
Durso said claims by Bernard Cardinal Law that such notices predated his 1983 appointment here would not excuse him from responsibility.
“The point of a continuing conspiracy is that everyone who was involved in the conspiracy is involved in every part of the conspiracy,” Durso said.
“That means Cardinal Law may be held responsible for things before he came here.”