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Church in Crisis

More allegations arise in Boston


Cardinal Bernard Law, fending off calls for his resignation while dealing with new charges of sex abuse against Boston church figures, presided at Palm Sunday services before a near-capacity congregation of mostly Haitians and Hispanics at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, located in the South End neighborhood of the city.

Inside the 1875 cruciform, neo-Gothic structure, nearly two thousand worshipers listened to narratives of the Passion of Christ enacted by Spanish-language performers. Dozens, if not hundreds of worshipers, wore small red-cap lapel pins manifesting their support for Law’s remaining as spiritual head of the nation’s fourth-largest diocese.

“We need him,” one African-American woman said enthusiastically several times outside the cathedral after the Mass.

A handful of protesters were also outside, holding signs that asked for Law’s resignation.

John Harris, of Norwood, Mass., for example, has demonstrated outside the cathedral on Sundays since the scandal of clerical abuse of children and young adults exploded in the Boston media nearly three months ago.

At first, he said, the response of worshipers and passersby was “muted.” But on Palm Sunday, he said, “people are more responsive.”

A woman, standing with Harris, said, “More people are willing to take our literature.” The demonstrators offered pedestrians fliers detailing the signs of sexual abuse and information on how to report it to law enforcement authorities.

The scandal in the Boston archdiocese and elsewhere in the New England region continues to generate front-page headlines and grab top spots in broadcast media. On Palm Sunday, The Boston Globe’s Spotlight investigative team, which broke the story on Jan. 6 of former priest John Geoghan’s various alleged abuses, reported yet another significant development in the widening regional scandal. The lead headline read: “Suit names archdiocese, N. H., bishop; says church failed to halt abuse by priest.”

This report tells of James Hogan, “a former Salem [Mass.] man who alleges that he was sexually molested hundreds of times by a parish priest in the 1960s,” according to the Globe.

Fr. Joseph E. Birmingham, the priest who allegedly molested Hogan and others, died in 1989 at the age of 55. According to the Globe, Thomas Blanchette, who also alleges that Birmingham molested him, said “he approached Law at Birmingham’s funeral and told Law about the abuse.”

According to the Globe Blanchette said of Law: “He laid his hands on my head for two or three minutes.” Blanchette said that Birmingham also molested his four brothers.

Blanchette told the Globe: “And then he [Law] said this: ‘I bind you by the power of the confessional never to speak about this to anyone else.’ And that just burned me big time. … I didn’t ask him to hear my confession. I went there to inform him.”

Donna Morrissey, Law’s spokeswoman, said that Law had “a vague recollection of such an encounter” but “no memory of the words exchanged,” according to the Globe.

On Palm Sunday, the Boston Herald continued its reporting of yet more allegations, including charges of rape and pornographic photo sessions at the archdiocese’s Lake Street mansion in 1979 when the late Cardinal Humberto Medeiros was archbishop.

Two families have come forward with charges of alleged sexual misconduct directed at a Kingston, Mass., parish priest and vicar, Msgr. Frederick J. Ryan.

According to Herald reports, “James O’Laughlin, an 18-year Wayland, Mass., police officer, said [March 22] Ryan molested his older brother, Daniel, in 1970, when Daniel was an altar boy in Boston.”

Daniel O’Loughlin died in a car crash in 1977, at the age of 20, according to the Herald. James O’Laughlin told a reporter that the family “long believed the alleged abuse ruined Daniel’s youth.” James also said that his “brother tried to tell their father about the abuse when it occurred, and revealed it in more detail in the mid-1970s after years of delinquent behavior.”

The first victim to allege sexual abuse by Ryan was Garry M. Garland. His charge landed on the front page of the Herald on March 22. The headline read “Bombshell: Vicar accused of molesting teen in chancery.”

A former Catholic Memorial High School student and star athlete, Garland says that Ryan got him drunk, took him to the cardinal’s residence, photographed him in the nude and molested him, according to reports in the Boston media.

Pending a church investigation, Ryan has been suspended from duties at St. Joseph’s Parish in Kingston, Mass.

During a news conference in Providence, R.I., the 38-year-old Garland, now married and the father of four children, repeated his allegations against Ryan.

Garland reiterated his charge that Medeiros had “touched” him “inappropriately” in the crotch, according to ABC-affiliate NewsCenter.5.

Law termed the allegations a “character assassination.” Former Boston mayor and former U. S. Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn, a Law loyalist, asked repeatedly during his daily AM radio talk show on March 25, “How can a dead man defend himself?”

Nevertheless, at his March 26 news conference, Garland of Hanover, Mass., said, “Do you know about shame and guilt? I have a lot of shame. I have a lot of guilt. I’ve been dead since 1979. Cardinal Medeiros was lucky. He got four more years.” Medeiros died in 1983.

Garland said that he would support others who come forward with allegations. “You can assassinate my character all you want, but I’m here. I’ll stand up for any victim there is. It’s time to be heard. And I have the courage to do it,” he said.

Meanwhile, on the same day as Garland’s news conference, the Boston Herald reported that Essex County investigators were ready to press criminal charges against suspended priest Ronald H. Paquin, of Malden, Mass. The Herald reported, “Paquin has admitted to molesting numerous altar boys and post-pubescent teens during his 20-year priestly career, and even apologized to them in media interviews.”

If one of the victims’ allegations proves to be true, the abuse falls within the 15-year Massachusetts statute of limitations for rape. The victim, now a 26-year-old Haverhill man, was 16 years old at the time of the alleged abuse.

Paquin may also face additional allegations of illicit underage sex abuses that took place out of state, in New Hampshire, Vermont, Maine and Canada, according to the Herald.

Freelance journalist Chuck Colbert writes from Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, April 5, 2002