B By Elizabeth Mehren
OSTON – A Roman Catholic priest here fathered at least two children in the 1960s and failed to seek emergency help when their mother suffered a fatal drug overdose, according to documents made public Thursday.
The personnel files of Father James D. Foley, who abruptly left his parish Thursday in Salem, Mass., were contained in more than 11,000 pages of church records released by the archdiocese under court order in connection with a series of civil lawsuits.
The previously confidential files include handwritten notes from a 1993 meeting initialed “B.C.L.,” the initials of Bernard Cardinal Law, the archbishop of Boston. According to the notes, the meeting focused on the 1965 incident in which a woman “overdosed” while Foley was present. She fainted, Foley left the room, dressed and called for medical assistance, and “she died,” the notes said.
The files contain no indication that church officials contacted police after learning of the incident. However, the record of the meeting takes note of “the scandal issue” and includes an item reading “criminal issue?”
Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. said he ran across the Foley case Wednesday night while reading some of the thousands of pages of material on sexually abusive priests in the Boston archdiocese over the last 40 years. MacLeish represents scores of victims seeking redress from church officials here.
“This woman died. Father Foley got dressed and left the scene,” MacLeish said. The lawyer said he was distressed to learn that Foley was still in the ministry when “the archdiocese of Boston has gone on record to say that the people of Boston are safe from sexually abusive priests. I always thought that included adult women as well.”
MacLeish said he notified the Attorney General’s office here of his finding early Thursday.
A man who answered the telephone at St. Joseph parish in Salem, north of Boston, said that as of late Thursday, Foley was no longer associated with the parish. The man, who would not identify himself, said he was uncertain of Foley’s whereabouts.
Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey was not available for comment.
But a Boston television station found Foley, 73, at the parish house early Thursday. The priest denied any involvement in the incident in question.
“I have an outstanding record in the archdiocese,” Foley told New England Cable News. “There has never been any hint of impropriety.”
Foley did confirm to a Boston Globe reporter, however, that he wrote a 1994 letter to the Rev. John McCormack, now bishop of New Hampshire, after the cardinal’s review board recommended that he resign his pastoral duties. The board also urged Foley to “meet with the archdiocesan legal counsel in order to develop a resolve around his civil and moral responsibility toward his children,” and suggested that the priest “make a lengthy retreat.”
The priest’s letter to McCormack goes on to note that “the woman’s death” occurred “over 25 years ago, and it is in the interest of no one to open that tragic story.” He continues: “I will regret to my dying day the circumstances, but I cannot turn back the clock nor bring back the dead. How can the church suffer scandal from an episode that will never possibly be revealed?”
Also among the records is a 1994 letter from Foley to Cardinal Law.
“I did leak out … the real reason for resigning the parish,” Foley wrote. “Obviously I did so in the most self-serving manner, disclosing only those parts of the story guaranteed to win me sympathy and withholding the damaging parts. … Only you knew the full story, and you were talented enough to see that despite my apparently successful ministry, underneath was a badly wounded man.”