Lennon Urged Hub Archdiocese to Probe Priest 'on Loan' to N.J.

By Tom Mashberg and Robin Washington
Boston Herald
February 6, 2003

A spokesman for Bishop Richard G. Lennon, interim head of the Archdiocese of Boston, said yesterday internal files make clear Lennon did not quash an investigation of a priest accused of touching a girl while in ministry in New Jersey.

The Rev. Christopher R. Coyne said church records on the Rev. John M. Picardi Jr. show Lennon urged Picardi be investigated by the Boston church rather than the Diocese of Paterson, N.J., where the priest was working on loan.

``Father Lennon was asked an opinion as to who has jurisdiction and he says Boston does,'' Coyne said of Lennon, who was then a canon law adviser. ``There was a process (and) an assessment and Father Picardi was suspended.''

Prior to the New Jersey incident, Picardi had admitted to a 1992 rape of an adult man in Florida, but was never disciplined for it, according to his files.

In New Jersey in 1995, the files state, he allegedly touched a 12-year-old girl on the buttocks. The file indicates Paterson Bishop Frank J. Rodimer asked the archdiocese of Boston for permission to investigate the accusations himself.

In a Sept. 26, 1995, document, Lennon recommends the archdiocese deny Rodimer's request, explaining, ``opening such an investigation runs the real risk of negative fall-out for Father Picardi and for the church.''

In the next paragraph, Lennon states: ``Since Father Picardi is a priest of the Archdiocese and since an allegation was made, the (Boston) Archdiocesan Policy must be implemented.''

In an Oct. 6, 1995, document, the Rev. Brian M. Flatley clarified Lennon's and his own position, writing, ``If Bishop Rodimer allows the investigation, and it clears Father Picardi, we may have to allow him to return to ministry. I am more and more convinced that this would be a mistake.''

Picardi's file shows he was then suspended for 19 months.

Ann Hagan Webb, New England co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said the case ``insinuates to me that (Lennon) does have some understanding that children needed to be kept out of the way of these men.

``If he can do that again, now that he's in a real position of power, I'll be the first to stand up and applaud him,'' she said.

David Clohessy, SNAP's national director, agreed, though he cautioned: ``Sometimes documents aren't crystal clear. If he really was well intentioned, it would serve him well to speak directly and honestly about this case.''

Picardi, 47, was reinstated in 1997 by Bernard Cardinal Law after Picardi appealed his case to the Vatican. In response, Rome wrote a letter to Law that carried an implicit message Picardi be reinstated, church insiders say.

Law then wrote to Bishop Thomas D. O'Brien of Phoenix to offer Picardi as a ``lend-lease'' priest.

Law outlined two allegations against Picardi: a ``homosexual incident'' in Florida in 1992, and the 1995 incident. Law wrote that New Jersey officials had looked into the Paterson case and ``concluded the girl had been touched but that it was impossible to say if the event constituted sex abuse.''

Law, however, omitted that Picardi himself called the 1992 episode ``a rape.'' Picardi was suspended Tuesday by the Phoenix church.


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