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Spotlight Report

3 area priests accused in recent suit are still in parishes

In '02, charges prompted diocese to impose leaves

By Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 3/5/2003

CAMBRIDGE -- Nearly five weeks ago, the Rev. Edmund P. Charest was accused in a lawsuit of repeatedly molesting a 15-year-old boy in 1971.

Yesterday morning, Charest, in Roman collar and black clerical garb, said daily Mass at Blessed Sacrament Church, where he has been assigned for the past year.

In an apparent change of practice for the Archdiocese of Boston, Charest and two other priests -- the Revs. Edward M. Keohan and Edward F. Sherry -- remain in their parish assignments despite being accused, in lawsuits filed Jan. 29, of sexually abusing minors several decades ago. All three deny the allegations.

The treatment of the cases comes in sharp contrast to that of the 27 other priests publicly accused last year of molestation. Those priests were immediately placed on administrative leave when allegations were made against them, a move that pleased victim advocates but sparked criticism that priests' rights were being trampled in order to contain a burgeoning crisis.

But in what appears to be a quiet softening of its zero-tolerance policy, the archdiocese is no longer automatically ousting accused priests. Church officials yesterday declined to say whether the change represents a new policy, or whether they are investigating the credibility of new allegations before taking action against the accused.

Meanwhile, one accused priest, the Rev. Ronald L. Bourgault, was reinstated last week as pastor of a Wayland parish after the man who had accused him in June of molestation admitted he had misidentified his abuser. Bourgault is the third priest to be reinstated.

Kathleen L. McChesney, the former FBI official hired by US bishops to oversee the church's response to the clergy sex abuse crisis, was traveling yesterday and could not be reached for comment. In McChesney's absence, her office referred questions to the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which did not return a call.

A Boston Archdiocese spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, declined to talk about specific cases, but said church officials ''need to have a basic understanding of what an allegation is before an investigation can begin, and needs to talk to all parties involved . . . so in a case where someone may be named in a lawsuit but further detailed information has not been forthcoming, we would be limited in what our response could be.''

Speaking to a reporter after Mass yesterday, Charest said an archdiocese official told him he was not placed on leave because there was ''no merit'' to the complaint, the first ever lodged against him. Charest, who said he knows his accuser, brushed off the latest lawsuit, saying it had been filed because ''the lawyers know there's more meat on the turkey.''

Charest was assigned to Our Lady of Grace parish in Chelsea at the time of the alleged abuse.

Sherry, reached yesterday at Nativity Church in Merrimac, where he is pastor, said that while he knows his accuser, ''I really had nothing to do with this kid.'' Sherry is alleged to have fondled and raped a teenage boy for several years, beginning in about 1968, at St. Joseph's parish in Malden.

Keohan, reached yesterday at his post at Our Lady of Lourdes parish in Revere, said that after the lawsuit against him was filed, he was told by the Rev. Charles J. Higgins, the archdiocese's secretary for ministerial affairs, that he could voluntarily take an administrative leave or remain at the parish; he chose the latter.

Salem attorney Philip D. Moran, who represents Keohan, said Higgins told him that the lawsuit naming Keohan didn't contain enough information to justify removing him from service. Keohan is alleged to have fondled a teenage boy from about 1981 to 1983 at St. Rose of Lima parish in Chelsea.

''It's really very vague,'' Moran said, ''and based on the complaint . . . I think they would be doing a grave disservice'' if they placed Keohan on leave. Added Moran: ''We intend to fight this aggressively.''

Boston attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who filed the January lawsuits against Charest, Keohan, Sherry, and 13 other priests, said he disagreed with the church's decision to allow the accused priests to remain in their assignments.

''Church leaders have to err on the side of caution,'' said Garabedian, who represents hundreds of alleged victims of clergy sex abuse, ''because the damage to an innocent child is irreparable in so many cases.''

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at pfeiffer@globe.com.

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 3/5/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.


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