August 31, 2002
Doubt Is Cast On Accuser Of 2 Priests, Judge Says
By SAM DILLON (NYT)
Hundreds of people who say they were sexually abused by priests have sued the Roman Catholic Church this year, and advocates for victims and lawyers who represent the clergy say that in no case have the accusations been ruled downright false. But a Boston judge this week expressed doubts about the good faith of a suit there accusing a Boston monsignor of sexual misconduct, and ordered a hearing for Sept. 4 to discuss her concerns.
The judge issued her order a day after the lawyer who filed the suit said he would no longer represent the plaintiff, Paul R. Edwards, 35, of Massachusetts , who has a history of misrepresenting events in his life. In his Aug. 14 lawsuit, Mr. Edwards accused Msgr. Michael Smith Foster, who is the Boston Archdiocese's chief canon lawyer, of sexually molesting him on many occasions in the early 1980's, when Monsignor Foster was a parish priest at Sacred Heart Church in Newton , Mass. The suit also accused a priest who was a supervisor in the Catholic Youth Organization, the Rev. William J. Cummings, of raping him at a hotel during an overnight field trip to New York in 1982. Father Cummings died of AIDS in 1994.
Last week, however, The Boston Globe detailed a series of contradictions and inconsistencies surrounding Mr. Edwards' claims. The newspaper quoted participants in the 1982 journey to New York who recalled it as a day visit with no overnight stay, for instance, and other people who remembered that the Sacred Heart rectory, where Mr. Edwards accused Monsignor Foster of having molested him, had always been kept strictly off limits to youths.
The paper also quoted acquaintances of Mr. Edwards who said he had a fanciful imagination that had led him to claim falsely in the past that he was deaf and that he had obtained a role in the movie ''Jaws.'' Mr. Edwards, who competed on the United States Paralympic Ski Team in Japan in 1998, had also offered conflicting stories about how he became disabled in the early 1990's, sometimes citing a sports injury and other times a crippling disease, the newspaper reported.
The day after the Globe article was published, Mr. Edwards's lawyer, Eric J. Parker, announced that he had begun an ''enormous effort'' to re-evaluate the veracity of the accusations in the lawsuit against the church.
On Wednesday, he filed a formal motion to withdraw as Mr. Edwards's lawyer. ''Issues arose, central to the allegations contained in the plaintiff's complaint that prevent plaintiff's counsel from serving effectively,'' Mr. Parker said in his motion. Mr. Parker did not repond to phone messages asking for comment yesterday. But Stephen Gillers, a professor at New York University School of Law, said: ''In plain English, this lawyer is saying, 'I was snookered, Judge, let me out.' ''
Judge Constance M. Sweeney of Suffolk Superior Court responded to Mr. Parker's withdrawal on Thursday by ordering Mr. Edwards to appear before her on Wednesday to offer explanations. ''I have significant concerns regarding the good faith basis for the allegations contained in the complaint,'' Judge Sweeney wrote in her order.
Mr. Edwards's telephone number is unlisted, and it was not possible yesterday to reach him for comment.
Exactly how many priests have been falsely accused during the 17 years since clerical sexual abuse became a public scandal as a result of a 1985 lawsuit against a Louisiana priest is a matter of debate, although no one contends that the number is large.
Patrick Schiltz, dean of the University of St. Thomas law school in Minnesota, said that over more than a decade he had defended Catholic dioceses against sexual-abuse lawsuits in more than 500 cases, and that he had concluded that ''fewer than 10'' of those cases were based on false accusations.
Because such a tiny percentage of the hundreds of accusations against priests have proven false over the years, public attitudes have shifted from extreme skepticism toward such claims to widespread acceptance that clerical abuse is a serious problem, said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Accused by Priests. ''If this Boston case had happened 10 or 12 years ago, it might have had some negative repercussions'' for the national movement to force a cleanup of the clergy, he said. ''But attitudes have shifted from denial of a horrific reality to the begrudging and belated acceptance of that reality.''