Bishop John McCormack files: Church covered up 4 decades of abuse
By Tom Mashberg and Jack Sullivan Boston (MA) Herald June 5, 2002
Documents on 10 suspended clerics released yesterday put Bernard Cardinal Law, three subordinates and even the late Richard Cardinal Cushing at the center of a broad effort to hide the truth about clergy abuse from parishioners, victims and the public.
The damaging new documents on the suspended clerics also reflect unfavorably on the oversight of priests under the long-lionized Cushing as well as Law’s predecessor, the late Humberto Cardinal Medeiros.
“What we now have before us is a four-decade-long pattern of protecting, harboring and covering up for known child molesters,” said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who released the files and is to depose Law today. “To claim any more that these are isolated cases is absurd.”
The Rev. Christopher R. Coyne, spokesman for Law, conceded yesterday that the latest batch of documents was damaging to his besieged archdiocese. “Once again, it was part of the protective culture of the church of the time,” Coyne said, “and forgetting . . . that the first thing has to be the protection of children.
“It’s going to take a long time to Recover the credibility we’ve lost,” he added.
Included in the files is a three-page handwritten 1993 Law memo in which he details why he let Rev. Eugene M. O’Sullivan be shifted in 1985 to a diocese in New Jersey – even though O’Sullivan had been convicted of raping an Arlington altar boy just a year earlier.
“Boston was not acceptable because of possible scandal,” Law wrote in the 1993 memo, which he apparently prepared after the Associated Press and other news media contacted the chancery about O’Sullivan’s criminal past. “While assignment of a priest under these circumstances is arguable, our present policy does not permit it.”
Nonetheless, after O’Sullivan was bounced from Metuchen, N.J., because of his Bay State convictions, he was allowed by Law to wear his clerical collar for 17 more years – and even served formally at Carney Hospital in Dorchester. The lengths to which Law himself went to assure new priestly duties for O’Sullivan and two other longtime problem pastors – the Revs. Ernest E. Tourigney and Daniel M Graham – are just some of the troubling personnel moves outlined in the files, obtained by MacLeish as part a pretrial investigation of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.
Other revelations included in the long-hidden files are these:
– Embattled Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., denied over and over to parishioners that Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham was a threat to molest minors, even though Birmingham’s personnel file showed evidence of abuse starting under Cushing in 1964. In April 1987, in his capacity as Law’s secretary for ministerial personnel, McCormack reviewed an emotional inquiry about Birmingham from a male parishioner at St. Ann’s Church in Gloucester. The parishioner, whose son, then 13, was an altar boy under Birmingham, said he learned that Birmingham had been removed from his parish for molesting children, and that the priest had soon after fallen into “poor health.”
Because Birmingham had also preached about AIDS, and was rumored to have engaged in risky sexual practices, the parishioner wrote: “I am concerned about the AIDS situation, and about a priest possibly molesting my son.” He asked Law for an explanation. In answer, McCormack wrote that Law had received the letter and asked McCormack to investigate. McCormack then wrote: “I have contacted Father Birmingham and . . . he assured me there is absolutely no factual basis for your concern regarding your son and him. . . . I feel he would tell me the truth . . . in this matter.”
Birmingham died wasting away from cancer in 1989. Some 40 men have come forward in recent months to file lawsuits against him for abuse, and church files quote him admitting several times under questioning to “sexual improprieties.” Gary Bergeron of Lowell, a Birmingham accuser, said yesterday: “Page after page shows they all knew he was a molester a full decade before he abused me and my brother, but did nothing. It’s incredible to see how these `men of God’ let this go on for so long.”
– The files mark the first clear indications Cushing engaged in cover-ups. The Herald reported last month that Medeiros was deeply implicated in efforts to hide the depredations of defrocked and jailed pedophile James R. Porter. In a letter dated Oct. 1, 1964, a Marshfield couple wrote to Cushing detailing the sexual abuse of their 12-year-old son by O’Sullivan at St. Ann’s Church in Marshfield. In the letter, the couple told Cushing that O’Sullivan had fondled their son, an altar boy, several times that summer. They also informed Cushing of at least four other altar boys who spoke of being sexually abused by O’Sullivan. The couple said they had reported the incidents to the church pastor, who said he would relay their concerns to the archdiocese. The couple later found out the pastor had not followed through. That is when they wrote to Cushing.
“We are taking the liberty of reporting directly to you . . . trusting that you in your wisdom will know best how best to handle the matter,” the couple wrote Cushing.
Shortly after, O’Sullivan was transferred to Our Lady’s Parish in Waltham. That same year, similar accusations were levied, and he was again transferred, next to Point of Pines Church in Revere. An unsigned memo from 1964 acknowledges allegations against O’Sullivan and noted a three-week vacation was arranged beginning June 16, 1964, until July 6, 1964.
“Informed (O’Sullivan) that we would transfer him, effective approx. July 9,” the note states.
And despite Law’s insistence in his 1993 memo there were “no previous reports” of accusations on O’Sullivan, an internal memo from “T.J.D.” to Bishop Alfred Hughes confirmed the O’Sullivan problem. “As far as I can see there is no evidence of treatment following the events of 1964, just transferred etc. . . .,” the memo states.
– Regarding Father Graham, removed in February from St. Joseph’s in Quincy, the papers show he was assigned a “mediator” in 1988 by Bishop Robert J. Banks, now of Green Bay, Wis., a Law aide who was deposed yesterday for his role in the Boston scandal.
The mediator was Shanley, now awaiting trial on three counts of child rape, who acted as middle-man between Graham and the accuser. Shanley referred Graham to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), a program for sexual addictions loosely based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“With Fr. Paul Shanley’s help I have discovered a helpful support group, S.L.A.A.,” Graham wrote to his victim. “Meetings are helpful to keep ones sexuality in check.”
Graham was cleared by church officials to resume parish ministry, but in 1992 was charged once again with abusing minors. In a 1996 letter to Graham, Law offered him a dispensation from Law’s 1993 rules governing molester priests so that he could resume parish work.
– The documents also further the evidence that Medeiros allowed pedophile priests to remain in the ministry and transferred rather than disciplined them.
In 1973, Medeiros approved the request of Rev. Ernest E. Tourigney to take a post as student chaplain at Catholic University in Washington. Medeiros knew Tourigney had been transferred to St. Mary’s in Holliston after accusations of molestation at Immaculate Conception Church in Weymouth.
In his letter to Medeiros requesting the post, Tourigney said his stay at St. Mary’s helped “alleviate a long-term difficult situation with the parish, which I have tried to do to the best of my ability.”
“During my years as a priest, I have worked with the youth both on a parish and deanery level,” he wrote. “It is the type of work I enjoy doing the most, find most rewarding and feel most qualified in doing.” The records indicate there were at least eight victims who accused Tourigney of sexually assaulting them. Still, McCormack and Law gave him new slots.
– One of the more sordid tales to emerge from the papers involves accused predatory priest Richard O. Matte. A man alleges he was abused by Matte after he went to the cleric about being sexually abused by another priest at various places, including drug dealers’ houses in the early-1980s.
According to a letter to church lawyers from Robert A. Sherman, the victim’s attorney and MacLeish’s partner, the then-14-year-old boy was the victim of “violent sexual abuse” by the Rev. Richard Buntel from 1979 to 1985. Both Buntel and Matte were assigned to St. Joseph’s Church in Malden.
The victim claimed Buntel befriended him and introduced him to alcohol and marijuana, later feeding him cocaine and exposing him to “violent pornography.”
“On one occasion, two drug dealers associated with Fr. Buntel urged Fr. Buntel to make a pornographic film of him sexually assaulting (the victim),” Sherman wrote. “(The victim) does not know if this film was ever made.”
Bishop John McCormack files: Memos reveal trail of charges
By Sacha Pfeiffer Boston (MA) Globe June 5, 2002
The departure was sudden, but if parishioners asked what had become of their parish priest, church officials had a tidy explanation ready: The Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham had been “working too hard” and “needed a rest,” according to a three-page, handwritten Nov. 4, 1964, memo by a high-ranking Chancery official.
In fact, Birmingham had been hastily transferred from Our Lady of Fatima Church in Sudbury to St. James Church in Salem after two fathers and their sons reported the young priest had repeatedly fondled the boys.
It’s likely, however, that many Sudbury parishioners knew the truth anyway. The pastor there told Chancery officials that knowledge of Birmingham’s habit of groping altar boys was so “widespread” that some children refused to attend altar-boy meetings and religious education classes.
Forced to face two of his young accusers at a meeting at the Chancery, Birmingham first denied the accusations, then claimed to have no memory of the incidents, and finally apologized for the “impropriety.”
He was ordered to see a Catholic psychiatrist “to get to the root of this problem,” although it is unclear whether he followed through with the directive. He was placed on sick leave and later reassigned to Salem, where his abusive behavior continued, according to a fellow priest who advised church officials in 1970 that Birmingham be transferred again.
The disclosures about the archdiocese’s extensive knowledge of Birmingham’s alleged history of abuse were included among 1,000 pages of church documents released yesterday in connection with a lawsuit filed against the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.
Despite Birmingham’s troubled history, he was moved from Salem to another parish in Lowell, to one in Brighton, to Gloucester, and to Lexington. By the time he died in 1989, he had served in a half-dozen parishes in the archdiocese, leaving dozens of accusations.
Church files show that his alleged abuses were known to Cardinal Bernard F. Law and several of his top deputies, including now-Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., who was one of Birmingham’s seminary classmates, and now-Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis.
In McCormack’s case, he wrote on Law’s behalf to assure a parishioner at St. Ann’s in Gloucester in April 1987 that there was “no factual basis” to his concern that his son may have been molested by Birmingham – even though McCormack had known since at least 1970 of Birmingham’s alleged abuses. “From my knowledge of Father Birmingham and my relationship with him, I feel he would tell me the truth and I believe he is speaking the truth in this matter,” McCormack wrote to the parishioner, who had written Law to inquire whether the Birmingham who was removed from Gloucester several months earlier was the same Birmingham who had been removed from Sudbury in the 1960s for molesting boys.
“I see no need of your raising this question with your son,” McCormack added.
Two months earlier, Banks wrote that Birmingham had “admitted there had been some difficulty” when confronted with a recent abuse complaint.”He agreed it would be helpful to resign from the parish, and to seek assessment and therapy,” Banks added.
Birmingham’s file indicates he was sent the same year to the Institute of Living, a Hartford treatment center for sexually abusive priests. After that, he served as parochial vicar at St. Brigid in Lexington from 1987 until shortly before his death in 1989.
After Birmingham’s death, complaints continued to stream in to the archdiocese, including one by a man who received a $60,000 settlement from the archdiocese for abuse he suffered at Birmingham’s hands when he was a high school student in the 1960s.