by Boston priest settle suit
Agreement requires Cardinal Law to meet family
By Michael S. Rosenwald, Globe Staff
January 30, 2004
The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston reached a settlement yesterday
in the case of a priest who fathered two children with one
of his parishioners, a Needham woman, and then fled her home
the night she died of a drug overdose.
Church officials announced an agreement with the family of
Rita Perry, who died in 1973, in the case against the Rev.
James Foley. The priest acknowledged having a lengthy affair
with Perry, and paternity tests eventually proved he was the
father of two of her four children, Emily and James Perry.
The archdiocese issued a strongly worded statement in which
Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley condemned sexual relationships
between priests and parishioners.
"Archbishop O'Malley sincerely regrets that a sexual
relationship existed between a priest of the Archdiocese and
Rita Perry, as well as the involvement of Father Foley in
the tragic circumstances of her death," the written statement
said. "This tragic situation illustrates the inherently
exploitive and harmful nature of sexual relationships between
priests and parishioners."
Financial details of the settlement were not disclosed, but
the agreement calls for Cardinal Bernard F. Law to meet privately
with Perry's four children. Foley's church personnel file
showed that in 1993 he admitted to Law and other church officials
that he had an affair with Perry in the 1960s and 1970s and
had been with her the night she overdosed. Foley was removed
from ministry in December 2002, and Law resigned a week later.
The family had filed a wrongful-death suit against Foley,
though not against the church. Roderick MacLeish Jr., the
family's lawyer, called the settlement a "pastoral response"
and said the family would drop the lawsuit.
In a written statement, the Perry family praised O'Malley's
strong condemnation of Foley's actions. It was the first time
the archdiocese "has acknowledged the destructive nature
of priests preying on vulnerable women parishioners,"
the statement said.
O'Malley has met with the family "to express his apology
directly to them and to express his further regret with regard
to all that the Perrys have suffered since the revelation
of these tragic events last year," according to the church's
statement. It also noted that the archdiocese "has issued
a Code of Ministerial Behavior which prohibits such relationships
in the strongest possible language."
Under the settlement, James Perry will serve on a planned
archdiocese advisory board, which will reach out to victims
of clergy sexual abuse. "There is no closure to the wounds
that have been caused and we intend to do everything we can
in the future to ensure that these types of relationships
never occur within the Church again and are never ignored
by Church officials," read the family's statement.
For three decades, the Perry children thought their mother
died alone of a drug overdose in 1973 as then 3-year-old Emily
was asleep upstairs. They were also unaware that their mother
had a relationship with Foley. She had originally sought counseling
from the priest in the late 1950s and met up with him again
following her lobotomy in the 1960s.
But in December 2002, the family had a startling revelation
when James Perry saw a story on television about a priest
who had an affair with a Needham woman who died in 1973.
Eventually, they obtained church records that showed Foley
disclosed the affair and the fatal overdose in 1993 to Law
and the Rev. John B. McCormack, now the New Hampshire bishop.
But Law never told the Perry family. Instead, church leaders
sent Foley for counseling. Law returned him to ministry in
1995, and he was removed in 2002.
In January 2003, Foley met with Perry's children and, according
to them, described his version of what happened the night
their mother died. Foley told them Rita Perry, who was 41,
invited him to spend the night. Only Emily, who was 3, was
home, and she was asleep upstairs. After midnight, Foley told
them, Rita Perry became hysterical and questioned his love
for her after he refused to spend the next day with her.
Minutes later, she emerged from the bathroom with a bottle
of pills and asked Foley to help her get the top off. Foley
said he took the bottle away from her and threw it under a
sofa. He said that when she became sick shortly after that,
and fainted, he realized that she had taken some pills while
she was in the bathroom.
Foley acknowledged that he panicked after Rita collapsed
and that he was unable to revive her. He fled after making
an anonymous call to Needham police.
In a telephone interview yesterday, James Perry said the
revelations have made the past year extremely painful for
"It's been so tumultuous," he said. "It has
deeply affected all of us. It's been an ongoing process of
discovery of a lot of horrible information."
Material from Associated Press was used in this report.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company