A Second Priest in Boston Is Accused of Years of Abuse
April 5, 2002
By PAM BELLUCK
New York Times
BOSTON, April 4 - For weeks, the central figure in Boston's
pedophile priest scandal has been John J. Geoghan, the
now-defrocked priest accused of molesting nearly 200 boys
while archdiocesan officials, aware of his history of
sexual abuse, transferred him from one parish to another.
Now there are accusations of a similar pattern with a
second priest, the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham. More than 30
people have come forward in recent weeks with accusations
that Father Birmingham, who died in 1989, molested them in
his 30-year career as a priest. Several say that they told
church officials about the accusations, but that Father
Birmingham was merely transferred to other parishes.
Robert A. Sherman, a lawyer who filed a suit last month on
behalf of a man who said Father Birmingham had molested him
hundreds of times over four years, today amended that
lawsuit to add the names of 13 people who claim they were
abused by Father Birmingham. Mr. Sherman said in an
interview that 17 other people had come forward with
similar accusations in the last week.
"He had a 30-year history in parishes, and he was a major
pedophile," said Mr. Sherman, who has represented scores of
people who received settlements in cases of sexual abuse by
members of the clergy. "He knew that other people had
complained about him, and he continued to molest children."
The Archdiocese of Boston has settled at least one case
involving Father Birmingham. In 1996, it paid $60,000 to
Paul Cultrera, who claimed that the priest abused him when
he was an altar boy in the early 1960's, The Boston Globe
Several of the recent accusers contend that church
officials were told about the accusations involving Father
Birmingham as early as 1963 and did nothing to prevent him
from continuing his career or continuing to have contact
Howard McCabe said in an interview today that after he
discovered in 1963 that his son Michael, who was training
to become an altar boy, had been repeatedly molested by
Father Birmingham in the sacristy at Our Lady of Fatima in
Sudbury, Mass., he and his son and another father and son
met with a monsignor.
Mr. McCabe said he did not remember the monsignor's name,
but he said his parish priest later told him that Father
Birmingham would be removed from Sudbury and made a
chaplain at a hospital in Salem, where he would get
Mr. McCabe said that a year later, his son saw Father
Birmingham on a skiing trip, traveling with "a busload of
Father Birmingham had been assigned a post in Salem, as a
priest at St. James church.
In 1970, a group of mothers arranged a meeting with another
church official, Msgr. John Jennings, to complain that
Father Birmingham had molested their children.
Mary McGee, one of the mothers, said today that they asked
Monsignor Jennings to arrange psychiatric treatment for
Father Birmingham, to report the complaints to Father
Birmingham's next parish, in Lowell, and to keep him from
teaching young children.
Mrs. McGee said the monsignor refused those requests and
told them, "Ladies you have to be very careful of slander."
Monsignor Jennings, who was added as a defendant in the
lawsuit today, lives in an assisted-living facility and
could not be reached today. A spokeswoman for the
archdiocese, Donna M. Morrissey, said she could not discuss
accusations that were part of litigation.
Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the archbishop of Boston, also
became a defendant in the lawsuit today, because another of
Father Birmingham's accusers said he told the cardinal
about the sexual abuse accusations at Father Birmingham's
funeral in 1989.
The accuser, Thomas Blanchette, said the cardinal told him
that he had removed Father Birmingham from active ministry
as soon he learned of the accusations against him. Mr.
Blanchette said the cardinal asked if he could pray for Mr.
Blanchette, and then said, "I bind you by the power of the
confessional not to speak to anyone about this again."
Ms. Morrissey, the archdiocese spokeswoman, said in a
statement that the cardinal "has a vague recollection of
such an encounter," but "he has no memory of the words
"It is inconceivable to him, however, that he would ever
have counseled someone never to speak of what they have
The bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire, John B.
McCormack, is also a defendant in the lawsuit. Mrs. McGee
said that in 1970, the mothers met with Father McCormack,
then a priest who had served with Father Birmingham at her
church in Salem. She said Father McCormack told the group
to contact Father Birmingham's new parish priest, in
Another accuser, James Hogan, said that while he was in
Salem in the 1960's, Father McCormack saw Father Birmingham
take him to his bedroom in the rectory.
"He saw me in the rectory at times with Father Birmingham,"
Mr. Hogan said. "It was obvious what was going on."
A spokesman for Bishop McCormack, who much later was put in
charge of handling sexual abuse claims for the archdiocese,
said that the bishop denied Mr. Hogan's accusations, but
that he recalled telling the mothers to contact Father
Birmingham's pastor and believed he had contacted the