Victims of sexual abuse gathered for a news conference on Wednesday to condemn the Catholic Diocese of Providence for allegedly failing to properly investigate more than 800 allegations of sexual abuse over the past 20 years.
Among those presenting in a downtown hotel conference room stories of abuse by local parish priests were Ann Hagan-Webb, a representative from Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, SNAP; and Jeffrey Thomas, of Massachusetts, and Helen McGonigle, a lawyer from Connecticut.
Thomas and McGonigle said they were raped as children by the Rev. Brendan Smyth, an Irish priest who was at Our Lady of Mercy Church in East Greenwich from 1965 to 1968.
Smyth returned to Ireland and pleaded guilty to 141 counts of sexual abuse there. He died in prison in Ireland in 1997.
Thomas and McGonigle had made similar allegations about Smyth at a news conference in December 2009.
The victims said Wednesday they want the office of Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and U.S. Attorney Peter F. Neronha to launch an in-depth investigation into what they said were 831 complaints of pedophilia and sexual abuse filed with the diocese.
They also said many of the abusive priests continue to serve in parishes in Rhode Island and elsewhere.
“This has to change if we are going to protect the children of Rhode Island,” Hagan-Webb said.
Amy Kempe, Kilmartin’s spokeswoman, said in an email that the matter will be taken seriously.
“The Office will accept and review any information the organization has regarding the allegations,” she wrote.
The Diocese of Providence issued a statement claiming they always forward allegations of sexual abuse to the state police or local law enforcement.
“It has been a consistent policy and practice of the Diocese of Providence to report many different issues including those of clergy abuse of minors to law enforcement,” the statement read. “The diocese is not aware of any priests currently in ministry, who have credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors against them.”
McGonigle, who said she was raped beginning at age 6 and continuing through age 9, referred to Smyth as “an international serial pedophile.” She said that, in June 2006, she met for about an hour with diocesan officials about Smyth and has since filed a lawsuit against the church. She also told them that her late sister, Kathleen, had been a victim of Smyth. She died of an a drug overdose in 2005, McGonigle said.
Hagan-Webb said that Monsignor Anthony DeAngelis repeatedly molested her in West Warwick from age 5 through 12. She said that she began recalling the crimes after she had children of her own in the early ’90s.
She said that she met with Robert M. McCarthy, director of the diocesan Office of Education & Compliance. McCarthy is a former Massachusetts State Police lieutenant.
Hagan-Webb said that McCarthy “demanded all my therapy records,” and she reluctantly turned them over. She said that eventually the diocese reimbursed her $12,500, the price of her extensive therapy sessions.
She said that DeAngelis died in 1988.
While alleging that the diocese had not investigated hundreds of abuse claims, the victims, along with Anne Barrett Doyle, co-director of bishopaccountability.org, of Waltham, Mass., provided reporters Wednesday with an inch-thick set of files they said that McCarthy had turned over to the state police.
They all contained redacted information about priests allegedly molesting boys and men, girls and women from August 2003 through last February.
On Feb. 26, McCarthy sent a two-page memo to the state police that included a 19-page transcript from a man who said a former pastor sexually assaulted him when he was 15 years old. He said the pastor assaulted him “as many as 25 times” over 11/2 years at several locations including his private residence in Glocester.
McCarthy wrote that the clergyman admitted to the abuse and has resigned as the pastor of two parishes. He claimed that the victim did not wish to pursue “criminal or civil complaints” against him.
Barrett Doyle estimated that at least 500 of the more than 800 allegations of abuse involved victims under the age of 18. She also said that the abusers were priests and some lay employees of the church. Some of the abuse, she pointed out, was inflicted on adults.
One of the letters that McCarthy forwarded to the state police in August 2003 involved a 6-foot-7-inch tall pastor who a woman said sexually assaulted her.
“On one occasion, I can recall he kept a door open while urinating and said to me, come and see what I got,” the report said.
McCarthy compiled a 21-page typewritten summary of the woman’s allegations.