Doubt Is Cast On Accuser Of 2 Priests, Judge
By SAM DILLON - The New York Times
August 31, 2002
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
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the suit said he would no longer represent the plaintiff,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
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.''