BOSTON – Thousands of newly released personnel files show that the Archdiocese of Boston went to great lengths to hide priests accused of abuse, including clergy who allegedly snorted cocaine and had sex with girls aspiring to be nuns.
The first round of the documents — roughly 3,000 pages on eight Roman Catholic priests — were made public Tuesday on a Superior Court order. They had previously been obtained by victims' lawyers.
The records included allegations that clergy sexually abused teenage girls and used cocaine and other drugs, and that one led a "double life" by carrying on an affair with a female parishioner.
Many of the priests whose files were released are not among the 400 clergy members targeted in the dozens of lawsuits against the archdiocese. But attorneys for plaintiffs hope the documents show the archdiocese had a habit of transferring priests to other parishes even after accusations of child abuse.
"There has been no other archdiocese where the extent of the problem has been so clearly identified," said David Clohessy, national director of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.
One of the eight priests, Robert M. Burns, had a history of sexual abuse before he came to Boston from the diocese in Youngstown, Ohio, the papers revealed. He was asked to serve in Boston in 1982 as he concluded a year of treatment for child molestation at a church facility.
Then-Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros and at least two of his top aides — Bishop Alfred C. Hughes and Thomas V. Daily — knew of Burns' history, but still assigned him to a parish where he would have contact with children, the documents said.
The files also indicate that Cardinal Bernard F. Law, after establishing regulations in 1993 to deal with abusive priests, continued to assign accused priests to active duty.
"Some of the information contained in those documents is truly horrible," said archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey, who said she could not comment on the specific allegations. "We're committed to helping any and all survivors."
In the late 1960s, the Rev. Robert V. Meffan allegedly recruited girls to become nuns and then sexually abused them, according to 1993 letters from Sister Catherine E. Mulkerrin to her boss, the Rev. John B. McCormack, who was a top aide to Law. Meffan allegedly would counsel the girls to perform sexual acts as a way of progressing with their religious studies.
Meffan allegedly engaged in sexual acts with four girls in a Cape Cod rental, one of the girls told Mulkerrin, according to the 1993 memo.
"They were all young girls planning to be nuns," said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents 247 plaintiffs suing the archdiocese.
Meffan told The Boston Globe the allegations in the documents were true, and that he still believed his sexual relationships with the teenage girls were "beautiful" and "spiritual," and were intended to bring them closer to God.
"What I was trying to show them is that Christ is human, and you should love him as a human being," said Meffan. "I felt that by having this little bit of intimacy with them that this is what it would be like with Christ."
The Rev. Thomas P. Forry allegedly built a house on Cape Cod for a woman with whom he carried on an 11-year affair, the documents showed. The woman had gone to him seeking advice because of problems in her marriage. The woman's son later alleged that Forry made sexual advances on him.
A 1992 memo from Mulkerrin to McCormack, currently the bishop in Manchester, N.H., outlined the history of allegations against Forry. Seven years later, Law reassigned Forry, then a prison chaplain, to a job as a roaming, fill-in priest to cover for priests on vacation. He is currently unassigned.
An unidentified man who answered the door at Forry's home in South Boston dismissed the abuse allegations.
Plaintiffs' attorneys and victims advocates say the documents show that Law continued to transfer problem priests until recently.
"It's not ancient history, it's very, very recent," Clohessy said.
The archdiocese earlier this year adopted a much tougher standard.
"We have a policy that no priest with a single credible allegation of abuse of a child will hold any position in the Archdiocese of Boston," Morrissey said. "It's a policy we wish we had for the past 50 years."
The Rev. Richard A. Buntel, who served in Malden, Mass., from 1978 to 1983, allegedly had sex with boys and used cocaine with them. Mulkerrin, in a memo to McCormack, said an alleged victim told her that Buntel provided him with cocaine when he was 15.
"He would snort it in the priest's room 'every time I went' and, in a way, it seemed like an exchange for sex which also happened every time," Mulkerrin wrote.
As of this year, Buntel was employed in a non-ministerial position at St. Thomas of Villanova parish in Wilmington. Phone messages left with the parish were not returned Tuesday night.