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Accuser wrongly maligned; Church ignored facts in probe of Foster case

Boston Herald, December 13, 2002

By Robin Washington and Tom Mashberg

The man labeled as falsely accusing Monsignor Michael Smith Foster of sex abuse was discredited by a flood of unsubstantiated allegations that church investigators - and in some cases Foster himself - knew to be untrue, the Herald has learned.

Paul R. Edwards, 35, of Winchendon, who in August filed suit claiming molestation by Foster and the late Rev. William J. Cummings in the 1980s, was labeled a false accuser after Foster's supporters said Edwards had a long history of fabrication.

But their allegations - including claims Edwards lied about being a police officer on Martha's Vineyard and that in the 1980s he visited Foster in the priest's bedroom at Newton's Sacred Heart parish rectory - are contradicted by evidence in the church's own files showing both contentions to be true.

A two-month Herald investigation of the Edwards-Foster case also found that many of Edwards' statements could be verified.

In the church's internal probe, Foster admitted that Edwards was alone with him in his bedroom. Yet Foster remained silent as his supporters repeatedly claimed it would have been "impossible" for the boy to enter the room without being seen.

"Was Paul Edwards ever in the bedroom part of your suite?" the Rev. Sean M. Connor, the church's chief investigator, asked Foster.

"Yes," Foster replied. He added, "Adults and kids moved in and out freely" through priests' quarters, even though church policy strictly forbids such activity.

Foster denied outright that he undressed or inappropriately touched Edwards. But he said he could not "categorically deny" the teenager ever sat on his bed. Foster also said he had "no clear recollection" if Edwards told him of the alleged abuse by Cummings, who died of AIDS in 1994.

Yet the Rev. Rodney J. Copp, a member of the archdiocese's powerful Metropolitan Tribunal, headed by Foster, confirmed to Connor that Edwards told Copp in 1991 that Cummings raped him.

"Paul did speak to Father Copp about sex abuse by the late Father William Cummings," the church's report said. "Father Copp responded, `First of all, Paul, I believe you.' "

The report said Edwards' response to Copp - who did not report the incident - was "Thank God, thank God you believe me!"

The church probe, released in court records filed yesterday, began after a lawsut was filed on Aug. 14 on behalf of Edwards by his former attorney, Eric J.Parker.

In the suit, Edwards claimed he was inappropriately touched by Foster over several years. He separately asserted he was raped by Cummings on an overnight trip of Our Lady Help of Christians teenagers to New York.

But soon after the filing, former members of the Sacred Heart Youth Group banded together to support Foster.

In an Aug. 22 Boston Globe article, the group, organized by Linda Amicangioli, contended the rape could not have occurred because the New York trip was not an overnight stay.

The Globe article also detailed Edwards' "penchant for fanciful invention," quoting group members saying Edwards as a teen inexplicably pretended to be deaf, to have been a Martha's Vineyard police officer and, in 1974, lied about being in the movie "Jaws" when it was filmed on the island.

The article also questioned the legitimacy of Edwards' paralysis, calling him a "self-described paraplegic."

Within days, Parker asked to be dismissed from the case, citing "new evidence." Edwards withdrew the suit "with prejudice," meaning he could not refile it.

Foster - who had been placed voluntarily on administrative leave pending the probe - held a press conference in the offices of Bischoff-Solomon, a public relations firm he had hired, to announce his exoneration.

But two weeks later he was suspended yet again - after Edwards told Connor his story in person.

Edwards said his lawyer abandoned the case because shortly after the suit was filed, Edwards checked himself into a mental health institution for post-traumatic stress disorder. "(He) was concerned . . . how the archdiocese would use that," Edwards said in the meeting.

Edwards also corrected himself on a key point - telling Connor that the abuse by Cummings took place on an overnight ski trip and not on the New York visit.

"I could have sworn that trip was to New York but apparently it was not," he said.

He also presented documentation of his employment as a summer police officer on the Vineyard; a certificate showing he had taken an American Sign Language class in highschool, where he would sign to his deaf friends; and several written diagnoses of "flaccid paraplegia secondary to unknown spinal cord injury" by Dr. JamesKolb at Burlington's Lahey-Hitchcock Clinic.

In the Herald investigation, which took place before Foster's file was released, the newspaper found:

** Another former classmate, Delia Brennan, confirmed that Edwards told her in the early 1990s that Cummings abused him.

"I just felt so sorry for him," she said, recalling also that he said the abuse took place on a ski trip.

** In church files, two other sources said a Mount Cranmore, N.H., trip was taken by students at Newton Catholic High School, which Edwards attended before transferring to Newton North.

** Of the "deafness" claim, Edward Mulligan, Newton North's Deaf Education director, confirmed that Edwards, who reportedly had a hearing-impaired girlfriend, took the class.

"He was interested in deafness and sign language. We have a large number of hearing students who take the class," he said. "If he were in the program, we would know if he was pretending to be deaf."

** Documenting Edwards' actual handicap, the paralysis that set in days after his wedding to his first wife in 1993, are three letters from Kolb diagnosing the infirmity and an MRI depicting lesions on his spine.

"Are they saying he's faking it? That he's let his body wither away all these years so that he can ride around in a wheelchair?" said Rick Middleton, a former Boston Bruin and friend of Edwards. "I've seen him go headfirst out of his wheelchair. It makes me sick even talking about this."

** On Martha's Vineyard, police chiefs Timothy S. Rich of Chilmark and Paul Condlin of Edgartown confirmed Edwards was a summer police officer over four years.

"He was in fact a police officer with police powers," Rich said.

And in an undated letter of recommendation for Edwards, Foster himself acknowledged the teen's summer job, writing: "Whether here at the parish, his summer work with the Edgartown Police, or his interaction with his peers, Paul Edwards exhibits a sensitivity and respect for others."

** The claim about "Jaws," which was indeed filmed on Martha's Vineyard with scores of locals as extras, came in 1974, the Globe article said. The article did not note that Edwards would have been 7 years old at the time.

Amicangioli, who organized the campaign of former friends, told the Herald following Foster's second reinstatement last month she only had "third hand" stories of Edwards' embellishments - a contradiction to her testimony in Foster's file that she knew "first hand" Edwards was lying.

Foster, in an interview with the Herald, refused to comment on Edwards. He referred comments on Cummings to archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey, who did not respond to several requests asking if the Cummings investigation was still open.

Morrissey would not elaborate on how the final decision to reinstate Foster was reached, "except to say this case is closed."

Reportedly out of fear of legal retaliation, Edwards refused to speak publicly about the case, even though Foster has stated several times he would not sue Edwards, citing an archdiocese policy.

Yet Foster's lawyer, Peter Hermes, has indicated otherwise, sending Edwards a letter threatening legal action "should Mr. Edwards make any future statements that Monsignor Foster considers defamatory."

Bill Gately, New England co-coordinator of the Survivor's Network of Those Abused by Priests, called the investigation by the archdiocese and Foster's response "extremely troubling."

"Paul has more tangible proof to validate his background than most of us," said Gately, who has spent hours with Edwards reviewing his documents, including the results of a polygraph test about the case that Edwards passed.

"I don't understand how having all this information they can deem Paul not credible."

For the latest on the church scandal, click here for the Boston Herald's Trail of Abuse coverage.

For ongoing information about the Foster-Edwards case, click here.

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