- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 5, 2002

Sex-abuse charges against one Boston priest were dropped this week by an accuser who apparently fabricated claims and now faces a criminal-fraud investigation.
Supporters of Monsignor Michael Smith Foster now want to know how the priest's reputation can be restored as he joins a handful of clergy wrongly accused in the wake of the Catholic Church's unfolding sex scandal.
"I've had a good cry of joy, and now I'm just ecstatic," said Linda Amicangioli, a former parishioner at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Newton, Mass., responding to withdrawal of a lawsuit by former altar boy Paul R. Edwards, whose case collapsed amid heavy publicity in the community over the past several weeks.
Miss Amicangioli, who organized her former church youth group to defend Monsignor Foster, said she now wants the Archdiocese of Boston to fulfill its commitment to restore the reputation of any priest wrongly accused of clergy sex crimes.
"He's a credit to the archdiocese, and this has hurt him tremendously," she said of Monsignor Foster, the church's top canon lawyer in Boston. "I hope they reinstate him immediately and do everything he needs to get his reputation back."
The case is one of several where accusers have recanted after making public charges of sexual abuse at the hands of priests.
Recently, Fresno, Calif., police called false a woman's charge earlier this year that Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles had sexually assaulted her 32 years ago at a Catholic high school.
After a three-week criminal investigation, police said they found nothing to substantiate the charge. The woman herself also acknowledged she was diagnosed with schizophrenia in the 1970s and was still taking medication for the illness.
The police exoneration prompted Cardinal Mahony to urge U.S. bishops, at their recent conference in Dallas on sex abuse, to report such charges to police immediately so proper investigations would occur.
Such was done in Utica, N.Y., where a 14-year-old boy accused a retired priest of molesting him. Police confronted the boy with inconsistencies in his story, and the boy recanted. He now faces prosecution in juvenile court for making false charges.
The priest faces a lawsuit for purportedly molesting three other men when they were teenagers at a Catholic high school in the 1970s and 1980s. They accused him of paying them for sex and promising them free tuition to buy their silence.
The priest, Monsignor H. Charles Sewall, admitted sexual misconduct and issued an apology, saying he paid a monetary settlement in 1988. The amount was undisclosed.
In another case involving convicted serial child molester ex-priest John J. Geoghan, a Lynn, Mass., woman and her son went to prosecutors with charges that Geoghan had sexually abused the son as a teenager. They made the claim after months of publicity about Geoghan's abuse of at least 130 other boys and the Archdiocese of Boston's payment of more than $10 million to victims in out-of-court settlements.
Police found numerous inconsistencies in the couple's story, then discovered that the mother had forged her son's school records to corroborate the story. The son was prosecuted for filing false charges, but the mother died before she could be prosecuted.
Timothy O'Neill, a former prosecutor who has defended priests accused of sex abuse, said false claims are inevitable in light of the church's current scandal. Twenty priests in Boston alone face sex-abuse charges.
"The best way to ferret out the false from the true is to let the process work cross-examination, confrontation of witnesses," Mr. O'Neill told the Boston Globe.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said he expected some false charges by people trying to profit from the church scandal, but said there have only been "a handful" of false accusations.
In the case of Mr. Edwards' accusations and lawsuit against Monsignor Foster, as the 35-year-old man's accusations got publicity, both longtime friends and supporters of Monsignor Foster contended that Mr. Edwards had a long history of exaggeration and lying.
His attorney pulled out of the case last week, telling Boston Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney that he had "significant concerns" about his client's credibility. The lawsuit was dismissed "with prejudice," meaning it cannot be refiled.
"That tells you something about the case," said the Rev. Christopher Coyne, archdiocese spokesman.

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