Priest in Falmouth area placed on leave after child sex abuse allegation; was previously convicted in Waltham embezzlement case

The Boston Globe/May 25, 2012

A senior priest whose assignments over the years included stints in Dorchester, Quincy, Weymouth, and Waltham, has been placed on administrative leave after officials received an allegation of child sex abuse, the Archdiocese of Boston said today.

The allegation against the Rev. Joseph Byrne, who now has a limited ministry in the Falmouth area, dates back to the early 1970s and was only recently reported to church officials, the archdiocese said in a statement.

The archdiocese said it had notified law enforcement and initiated a preliminary investigation into the complaint.

Byrne will be barred from ministering to the public until the preliminary investigation is finished.

The archdiocese said it was acting not because it had made a determination of his guilt or or innocence but out of "commitment to the welfare of all parties." It promised to work as quickly as possible and in a fair manner to resolve the case.

"We remain committed to doing everything possible to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people in our parishes and institutions," Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said in a statement. "I know the faithful and the clergy of the Archdiocese join me in this pledge of prayerful support."

Church officials would not discuss the details of the allegation, saying they did not wish to compromise the investigation or the privacy of the alleged victim. Officials would not say where the abuse took place, but according to Byrne's assignment history, he was serving at St. Matthew's parish in Dorchester from 1969 to 1975, when he moved to St. John the Baptist in Quincy.

Byrne moved to St. Albert the Great in Weymouth in 1985, and to Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted in Waltham in 1994.

The sexual abuse allegation arose within the past month, a church official said.

David Clohessy, director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said in a statement that the group hoped that the archdiocese would "keep a tight rein" on Byrne and "monitor him closely now that he has been removed from ministry."

"What is most important at this stage is to allow the law enforcement investigation to play out. Anyone who has any information regarding Rev. Byrne or his alleged crimes should immediately contact Boston law enforcement," the statement said.

Byrne has been a focus of controversy before, at Our Lady Comforter of the Afflicted. In June 2005, he received five years of probation for embezzling after pleading guilty to moving more than $135,000 from the church to his personal bank accounts.

He had started embezzling at least as early as February 1997.

Bank officials contacted law enforcement in April 2002 after observing unusual transactions in his accounts.

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