IC Community Demands Meeting with O’Malley on Church’s Overreaction

Nearly 1,000 parents and parishioners from Immaculate Conception (IC) Church and School have officially lodged a petition of protest with the Archdiocese of Boston and Cardinal Sean O’Malley – calling for an immediate meeting with the Cardinal to discuss what they believe to be a complete overreaction in the handling of the inquiry into allegations of indecent exposure by an employee of the IC School.

That employee – a long-time custodian – has since been completely cleared by the Revere Police and the District Attorney.

However, three others, including Father George Szal, Principal Alison Kelly and a second grade teacher, were called to resign from their positions by the Archdiocese prior to the conclusion of the official investigation.

IC School parents Jeff Turco and Michael Duval said they hand-delivered the petition to the Archdiocese’s Braintree offices on Friday, complete with 927 signatures.

“They’re so panicked about how criminally they handled [the priest sex abuse cases] years ago that now they don’t care who they hurt – whether the kids, the parents or three good people, four if you count the custodian,” said Turco this week. “The Cardinal and his people ought to stand up and say, ‘Sorry, we’ve made a mistake here in our zeal to protect children.’ However, they’re so arrogant and so stuck in their office complexes in Braintree that I don’t know if they have the fortitude to admit they made a mistake…It’s so un-Christian the way they handled this.”

Duval said he and Turco have found that not everything written in press releases or said to parents has panned out, and he said he doesn’t believe that there were any policies in place on how to handle this.

“I had talked with police prior to the meetings so I knew that there wasn’t likely to be anything criminal about this,” he said. “The fact of the matter is there were no policies in place to deal with this. I soon realized the three that resigned had been given an ultimatum – resign or be fired…I’m hoping Cardinal O’Malley will talk to us. If we can’t get them to bring back these three good people involved in this, then maybe they can sit down and consider how this went and put better policies in place so it doesn’t happen again…The Archdiocese has had a lot of years of bad press and are trying to protect themselves. So, now it’s one extreme to the other.”

So far, a spokesman from the Archdiocese has not returned an e-mail sent from the Journal about the petition. However, that communication came on the eve of Monday and Tuesday’s blizzard conditions.

The Archdiocese did release a statement on Thursday, however.

“We are relieved that no child was harmed,” said Terrence C. Donilon, a spokesman for the Archdiocese. “However, as we have previously stated, the conduct of the worker in using the child’s bathroom at Immaculate Conception School, Revere, with students present, was highly inappropriate and improper.”

Officially, the petition does not call for the reinstatement of the priest, principal and teacher, but Turco said there is strong sentiment in the school and Parish community for the return of those three folks.

The petition does call for discussion about the future of IC Parish and School; the financial challenges that will lie ahead for the school as a result of the negative publicity; and the handling of the present situation.

That situation exploded into the public square on Tuesday evening, Jan. 13, following a vague letter that was sent home to parents.

Turco and Duval said the entire school community was thrown for a loop when they received the letter on Monday night in the children’s backpacks.

The letter, both said, talked about the fact that an adult staff member had been put on leave and that something had happened. It said that these kinds of things are difficult to talk to children about and it gave a number to call for help in counseling children on these situations.

Both said there was no further information given out, and the principal was not allowed to comment. Many parents turned to police, who did not immediately know or have any information about the incident.

Parents were in an uproar, Turco said, and children were reporting to parents that new signs had been posted in the bathroom saying only children were allowed to use it. It was all a recipe for thinking the worst had happened.

“We were in tears trying to figure out what kind of terrible thing had happened at our kids’ school,” said Turco. “Other parents were calling us; no one knew what was happening.”

Soon, Turco and Duval said, as parent meetings began to take place with the Archdiocese, many realized that the incident was unfounded and many believed the Archdiocese had created a frenzy – one that many in the media had fed into while trying to get at the truth of the matter.

The end result, according to Revere Police and the Suffolk County DA, was that a 64-year-old custodian had used the bathroom and a young boy had reported that to his mother.

“The investigation revealed that a 64-year-old male assigned to the school’s custodial staff used the boy’s restroom, which was across the hall from his office, on several occasions in December and early January,” read a statement from the DA late last week. “One boy reported to a parent that he had observed the adult using the urinal during this time. No child reported that the adult engaged in physical contact with them. No child reported that the adult used sexual language around them. No child reported any action by the adult that would support criminal charges. The adult met voluntarily with investigators and submitted to an interview with detectives. The interview likewise did not yield any evidence to support charges.”

The release went on to say that the investigators spoke with the parent of the boy to explain what they found, and the release indicated that she expressed relief.

“She supported those findings, expressed relief, and did not wish to proceed with any criminal case against the adult.  As a result, the investigation has been closed without charges,” read the release.

In light of the results of the investigation, and the release of the circumstances that triggered the entire action, parents and parishioners said they felt they deserved at least a meeting.

“I want the Archdiocese to reconsider the way they handled this whole mess and if this happens again, before they jump into any extreme actions like getting rid of someone, that they first conduct a thorough investigation,” Duval said. “I feel like it was escalated to the point that it got by the way they went about handling it…The school is also certainly going to suffer some financial consequences, and we believe a lot of that will be because of this firestorm the Archdiocese created.”

In further statements to the Boston Globe over the weekend, Donilon said the Archdiocese holds to the belief that the behavior, though not found criminal, was inappropriate.

“Even if not later found to be criminal, the failure to recognize that unacceptable situation coupled with the failure to report the matter as it had been communicated to supervisors led to the resignation of those who were in positions to ensure the protection of children,” he said. “The decision to follow the law regarding mandated reporting does not rest upon whether the individual’s actions were criminal.”

Turco and Duval said they believe all necessary steps were taken by Father Szal, Principal Kelly and the second grade teacher – who taught Duval’s daughter. They believe that mandated reporting was followed and that no one tried to hide anything – and especially – that concerns raised by the parent were communicated.

The fact that the situation unfolded over Christmas break from Dec. 19 to Jan. 5 also contributed to the seemingly long duration between communications with the parent, Turco said.

Duval said he feels particularly bad for his daughter’s former teacher – who was only in her first year of teaching.

“My daughter’s teacher is the last one who should have gotten fired,” he said. “She repeated it to the higher up, the principal, and so she did everything right…There was a story going around that she was crying when she was cleaning out her room. She told everyone that she wasn’t crying because she lost her job, but because she wasn’t allowed to say good-bye to the kids. That woman would have taken a bullet for my kids and you don’t find that all the time. For her to lose her job over this is tragic.”

Turco said he felt particularly bad for Father Szal, who spent several years at IC rejuvenating the Parish and the School.

“All these years of priesthood and caring for parishioners and now you Google his name and you’ll read that he put children in danger,” said Turco. “He’s just been cut down by this…You don’t do this kind of thing for an incident that the Archdiocese blew out of proportion. I’d like to know whether priests are allowed to use the bathroom at Fenway Park. If they go in the bathroom there and there are children present, is that a reportable event? Do they have to tell the Archdiocese that they were in the bathroom with children present while at a Red Sox game? That’s how ridiculous this situation became.”

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