26 More Added to Archdiocese Lawsuit

Associated Press/May 1, 2002

Boston -- Twenty-six men have joined a lawsuit against the Archdiocese of Boston that claims they were sexually abused as children by a priest who was allegedly moved to another parish after the accusations surfaced.

Forty men now say they were abused by the Rev. Joseph Birmingham, a priest known for his flashy black convertible. He died in 1989.

Gary Bergeron, 39, of Lowell, said he and his brother were shocked to learn that church officials moved Birmingham to their parish of St. Michael after allegedly being told of previous abuse. Birmingham also served at five other parishes in Massachusetts.

"They just gave him a new batch of victims, and when he left St. Michael's, they gave him a new batch of victims,'' Bergeron said. "I personally want Cardinal Law here. I want him to stay here, I want him to clean up this mess.''

The lawsuit names the Boston archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard F. Law; Monsignor John Jennings and Manchester, N.H., Bishop John B. McCormack.

The accusations mirror those in two other cases in which priests were transferred from parish to parish despite allegations of sexual abuse.

Court documents released in January showed the archdiocese reassigned John J. Geoghan to other parishes, even though he was accused of child abuse. He is now serving a 9-to-10 year prison sentence after being found guilty of indecent assault and battery.

In the case of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, documents show that church officials knew allegations against him, and of his support for sex between men and boys, when they appointed him as pastor of a suburban Boston parish.

Both the Geoghan and Shanley cases plunged the Catholic church deeper into the sex abuse scandal that has spread nationwide.

McCormack, who was director of ministerial personnel in the Boston archdiocese from 1984 to 1994, has been accused in lawsuits of knowing priests were abusing boys and failing to intervene.

Manchester diocese spokesman Pat McGee reiterated earlier statements that McCormack had no knowledge of Birmingham's alleged abuse.

"(Bishop McCormack) did not see anything while he served with Father Birmingham that made him suspicious that any abuse was occurring,'' McGee said Tuesday.

Jennings, who dealt with personnel issues at the archdiocese, allegedly rebuffed parents who told him in 1970 that Birmingham was abusing their children. He did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

In other developments Tuesday:

A priest convicted of sexual misconduct in Milwaukee in 1973 was transferred to California, where he molested an 8-year-old boy, a lawsuit claims. The suit says the Milwaukee archdiocese and the Orange County diocese covered up molestations and continued to regard the Rev. Sigfried Widera ``as a Catholic priest who could be trusted with minor parishioners and minor students.''

Orange County diocese spokeswoman Maria Schinderle said that in 1976 "it was believed that under treatment and with counseling, that he (Widera) would not pose a risk. That was the general belief at the time. There was no conspiracy.''

She said the diocese was not told about Widera's conviction when he was transferred. The Milwaukee archdiocese had said only that the priest had a "moral problem having to do with a boy,'' she said.

Milwaukee archdiocese spokesman Jerry Topczewski said he could not comment on the suit because church officials had not seen it.

A priest who served prison time last year for trying to entice an underage boy into sex via the Internet was accused in a lawsuit filed Tuesday of molesting an altar boy at a Connecticut church in the late 1980s.

A chaplain at a Catholic hospital in St. Louis resigned after the Illinois diocese that recommended him for the job revealed he was accused of sexually abusing a minor years earlier, the Archdiocese of St. Louis said.

Seven men sued the Archdiocese of Louisville, claiming they were sexually abused as children by priests two decades ago or before. The men claim the archdiocese knew three priests engaged in a pattern of sexually abusing children. Cecelia Price, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said they had not seen the lawsuit.

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