A R.I. church was told it hired an accused child molester. It kept him on for two decades.

BRISTOL, R.I. — When the Rev. Barry Gamache arrived at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in early 1997, it had been a dozen years since a former longtime parish priest was hauled away for sexually abusing teenage boys.

The scandal caused by the Rev. William C. O’Connell had rocked this town’s oldest and largest Catholic parish and left its members feeling betrayed even a decade later.

Gamache, a plainspoken son of a commercial fisherman from Narragansett, said he knew what the parishioners of St. Mary’s needed to hear.

“I told people I would do everything to protect their children,” Gamache said.

And when the new priest needed someone to handle the church’s finances, he found a parishioner who was eager to help: David E. Barboza.

A Globe investigation this summer revealed that Barboza had been accused of sexual misconduct with three boys in the 1970s and 1980s.

Gamache said he was “surprised and hurt” by those revelations. Two other men have subsequently reported to the State Police that they were also victims, and still others have made similar allegations to the Globe.

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