Files: Cardinal Tried to Help Accused Man Get Ordained

By Robin Washington and Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
February 5, 2003

Top aides to Bernard Cardinal Law outlined a plan to pave the way to priesthood for a seminarian hit with sexual abuse allegations, despite church rules prohibiting accused candidates from becoming ordained, according to files released yesterday.

The internal memos indicate Law and his deputies - including Msgr. Michael Smith Foster, the Boston Archdiocese's top canon lawyer - knew of multiple allegations against Pope John XXIII seminarian Mark Doherty but nonetheless acquiesced in allowing him to be ordained in the Diocese of Charlotte, N.C.

"After consultation with my canonical advisors, I write to suggest that the easiest way for this to go forward would be simply to wait out the necessary five years and then proceed if you so decide that way," Law wrote to Bishop William G. Curlin on Aug. 23, 1999.

The five-year waiting period is outlined by Foster and the Revs. Charles Higgins and Mark O'Connell as a canon law loophole for both Law and Curlin to avoid the initial ordination of Doherty, who moved to Charlotte in 1996.

In a June 22, 2001, memo, Foster wrote Higgins, "Deacon Doherty has remained now in the Charlotte Diocese for 4 years and 10 months . . . Therefore, if neither Bishop states his opposition by December 15, 2001, then the incardination (ordination into the Charlotte Diocese) takes effect ipso iure on December 16, 2001."

A lone voice opposing the plan was Bishop Richard G. Lennon, now interim chief of the archdiocese, who said in 1997, "If we are not willing to ordain him, while permitted by canon law, it would not be proper for (Law) to excardinate him for service in another diocese."

Ultimately, Doherty, 49, who has taught for several years at Charlotte Catholic High School, was not ordained.

"He's working down here as a religion teacher but he's not a priest, he's (no longer) a deacon. He's just a guy," said Kevin Murray, a spokesman for the Diocese of Charlotte.

But Murray said Curlin has placed Doherty on administrative leave from his classroom, though a psychologist has already cleared Doherty.

"He's not a danger to anybody as far as I can see," he said. "It was just an allegation."

Yet Boston Archdiocese officials viewed the charges far more seriously, the records show.

"He cannot be placed in ministry," now-Bishop John B. McCormack wrote in June 1993, adding, "There will be a cloud in his priesthood due to the allegations."

Those claims surfaced earlier that year, when two men told church officials Doherty, then a pharmaceutical salesman, fondled them while on a 1977 New Hampshire camping trip. A year later, a second family came forward to tell of similar abuse in 1979.

Despite a clergy Review Board decision to block the ordination and close the case, Doherty sought ordination first with the Augustinian order and then in Charlotte, and apparently sparked a change of hearts of Boston church leaders.

"I suggest you do nothing and allow the five year residence - which began 8/16/96 - to take effect," Higgins wrote Law in 1999.

A church spokesman did not return calls seeking comment. Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who released the files as part of discovery in the Rev. Paul R. Shanley case, decried the handling of the case.

"Msgr. Foster and others were presumably aware that there were credible allegations of sexual abuse against a man that was seeking to become a priest. The records indicate they did nothing to stop it," he said.

Lennon also appears in the files of the Rev. John M. Picardi Jr., currently serving in Flagstaff, Ariz.

In the files, Picardi, 46, admitted to raping a 28-year-old man in a Florida hotel in 1992. He also allegedly fondled a girl while at the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., in 1995 - a charge ruled "unsubstantiated" by New Jersey authorities.

In a 1995 memo, Lennon told Paterson Bishop Frank J. Rodimer he will "not grant" Rodimer authority to investigate Picardi, saying it was the responsibility of the Archdicocese of Boston to assess the priest.

Placed on leave, Picardi appealed to the Vatican, which wrote to Law. The cardinal reinstated him, sending him on loan to the Diocese of Phoenix.

Files were also released on:

The Rev. Francis Murphy, another Boston "lend-lease" priest, who was accused of molestation and child pornography in Alaska.

The Rev. Arthur P. O'Leary, who was reported by another priest to have been apparently cruising for sex in highway rest areas and also cited for inappropriate behavior with boys.

The Rev. Richard G. Johnson, who was accused of abuse of girls at Lynn's St. Mary's parish in the 1950s. He retired in 1996.

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