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Priests Concerned About False Accusations Speak Up

From the New York Times

A group of priests representing almost a third of the Roman Catholic priests in the Boston Archdiocese is concerned that some priests are being falsely accused of child sexual abuse and has asked Cardinal Bernard F. Law to ensure that they are given full legal rights when charges are made against them.

"We believe that priests are being called in by the archdiocese and informed that an allegation has been made against them and then removed from ministry before an investigation is conducted," said the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, the chairman of the Boston Priests Forum.

"So we believe there is a presumption of guilt and a rush to judgment," said Father Bullock, who is also pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows parish in Sharon, a Boston suburb.

Father Bullock said he had talked to five priests placed on leave by the Boston archdiocese since the sexual abuse scandal became public in January who deny guilt. "They have been evicted from their rectories, where they live, the very day the charges are communicated to them, so we need to know better what the process the archdiocese is using," Father Bullock said.

This year, 20 priests have been removed from their jobs and housing in the Boston Archdiocese after charges of sexual abuse have been made against them.

The swift action is part of a new zero-tolerance policy adopted by Cardinal Law after he came under attack for transferring priests accused of child sexual abuse from parish to parish in earlier years.

The concern by the priests' group points to the archdiocese's difficulty in belatedly trying to satisfy the victims of child sexual abuse and at the same time to be fair to priests who may be falsely accused.

In a letter to Cardinal Law, the Boston Priests Forum said, "Priests are deeply troubled and need to be reassured."

"Your Eminence, the priests are hurting, our morale has plummeted," the letter said.

Father Bullock said, "We are in no way minimizing the enormity of the crimes that were committed and the pain of the survivor victims." But his group is concerned about due process, he said.

The group has asked Cardinal Law to ensure that when priests are informed of the accusations against them that they be allowed to be accompanied by a lawyer or a friend. Some priests have been called in without being able to have a lawyer present, Father Bullock said.

The Boston Priests Forum is a pioneering effort to create a professional organization of priests that would provide support for men who usually live in isolation, he said. Its leaders are largely from the liberal wing of the church and have criticized Cardinal Law's failure to respond earlier to the accusations.

Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for Cardinal Law, said, "The Archdiocese of Boston is fully aware of, and sensitive to, the concerns felt by all priests across the archdiocese."

A church official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that in two cases since 1993 the archdiocese had found accusations of sexual abuse by priests were groundless after investigation and the priests were restored to active ministry. The official said there was evidence that the number of false accusations has gone up this year.

"But we are in a very tight bind in discussing this," the official said. "We don't want to revictimize the victims."