BRISTOL, R.I. — When the Rev. Barry Gamache arrived at St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in early 1997, it had been a dozen years since a former longtime parish priest was hauled away for sexually abusing teenage boys.
The scandal caused by the Rev. William C. O’Connell had rocked this town’s oldest and largest Catholic parish and left its members feeling betrayed even a decade later.
Gamache, a plainspoken son of a commercial fisherman from Narragansett, said he knew what the parishioners of St. Mary’s needed to hear.
“I told people I would do everything to protect their children,” Gamache said.
And when the new priest needed someone to handle the church’s finances, he found a parishioner who was eager to help: David E. Barboza.
A Globe investigation this summer revealed that Barboza had been accused of sexual misconduct with three boys in the 1970s and 1980s.
Gamache said he was “surprised and hurt” by those revelations. Two other men have subsequently reported to the State Police that they were also victims, and still others have made similar allegations to the Globe.
“You read Facebook, everyone in town knew, but not a soul mentioned it to me,” Gamache said in an interview after a recent Sunday Mass. “You can quote me on that.”
But the Diocese of Providence’s own records, obtained by the Globe, tell a different story. So do people who say they warned Gamache and the diocese to keep Barboza away from children.
The diocese has since confirmed that it had previously investigated complaints about Barboza and said in a statement that it presented the results to “the pastor who maintains the day-to-day authority for parish administration,” meaning Gamache.
When shown the records in the interview after Mass, the priest then admitted that an investigator had in fact told him about the Barboza complaints over the years. But Gamache said the allegations “didn’t seem to be anything credible.”
The diocese and Gamache were first warned about Barboza in the fall of 1998, less than a year after the priest hired him, according to a transcript from the diocese obtained by the Globe.
A parishioner saw Barboza at the altar, dressed like a deacon, and recognized him as the former Bristol police officer who he said sexually assaulted him when he was an Eagle Scout in the 1970s.
The complaint was passed on to Gamache, who notified the investigator in the diocese’s Office of Compliance. The investigator told the parishioner that Gamache found it “somewhat difficult to believe” that Barboza would have done anything like that, according to the transcript of the interview with that parishioner.
The diocese recorded interviews with victims and witnesses in such inquiries and had them transcribed.
Barboza remained in his job, even as the diocese received more complaints over the next 21 years, allegations about behavior from before he worked for the church.
As the years went by, both Bishop Robert E. Mulvee and Bishop Thomas J. Tobin were notified about the investigations, according to transcripts of two interviews. But ultimately, the decision to keep Barboza at St. Mary’s came down to its priest. And Gamache said he had no suspicions about Barboza, who resigned abruptly after the Globe investigation.
“If I had, I would have fired him,” Gamache said.
A bigger role at church
Throughout his adult life, Barboza, 64, was a prominent public official in Bristol: town councilman, police officer, investigator for the state fire marshal, volunteer firefighter, part of numerous boards and committees, wielding power with each.
Parishioners say it was no different at St. Mary’s Church, where Barboza became involved in and controlled many aspects of life at the parish. This was his family’s church, and even before he was hired, Barboza volunteered as a eucharistic minister, visiting the sick and elderly.
Gamache, known as “Father Barry,” said he hired Barboza to handle the church’s finances and run the cemetery. He said Barboza wasn’t involved in youth programs and had “no reason to be in contact with children.”
Several parishioners said otherwise.
One who worried about Barboza’s proximity to children in the church, particularly the altar boys with him at Mass, was the first to warn the diocese.
The man, who is now 58, sat down with the Globe recently, along with his wife, to talk about what he said happened to him in the summer of 1976. His story was consistent with what he told the diocese’s investigator on Oct. 11, 1998, according to the diocese transcript, which uses his name. The Globe does not identify victims of sexual assault without their permission.
He was an Eagle Scout and only 14 when Barboza, a young Bristol police officer, began showing up at the troop meetings and camp-outs.
The man remembered a day that summer when Barboza rode his motorcycle to his house and invited him for a ride. When the boy hopped on the back, Barboza brought him to his cottage in Bristol.
He said Barboza offered to show him around and led him into the bedroom, an area just big enough for a queen-sized bed and shelves. He said Barboza pointed out a stack of adult magazines and asked if he liked looking at them, if he liked masturbating.
“I was like, ‘What the hell?’ ” the man recalled. “Then, he pushed me down on the bed and got on top of me.”
The man said he fought Barboza, who unbuttoned the boy’s shorts and pulled them down, and reached into his underwear. “I struggled, and I threw him off the side of the bed, and he fell into the alcove between the bed and the wall,” the man recalled. “I just hightailed it through the front door with my pants down.”
He remembered standing in the street, pulling up his pants, as Barboza came to the door. Barboza told him he was “one strong bastard” and took him home.
The man said he changed Boy Scout troops to avoid Barboza and then quit scouting a few months later. He didn’t tell anyone what happened.
Not until two decades later, in the late fall of 1997, when he saw Barboza during one Sunday Mass at St. Mary’s Church.
“He was up on the altar and in a white robe. I was absolutely flabbergasted,” the man said.
As he stepped out of the line where Barboza was administering Communion, the man’s wife turned around and saw the look on his face. “I said, ‘What happened?’ ” she recalled. “When we left Mass, that’s when he told me.”
The man said he wanted to talk to Gamache about Barboza, but he didn’t know how to approach him. Although Barboza was just supposed to be running the church finances, he was everywhere — during Mass, in the office, answering the phone, opening the mail.
“There was no way to get to Father Barry without running into Dave Barboza,” the man said. “I felt as soon as he would see my presence that he would know what was going on and tip him off.”
Instead, the man talked to a retired Bristol police officer, who said the criminal statute of limitations had expired but recommended he contact the diocese. His wife also told a cousin who worked for her church in South Kingstown, and the cousin told her priest, the Rev. John Soares, because she believed Gamache would be more likely to listen to another priest. Soares then contacted Gamache.
All roads led to retired Massachusetts State Police lieutenant Robert N. McCarthy, who was hired by the Providence diocese in 1993 as its first “education and compliance coordinator for sexual concerns.”
McCarthy’s job, as explained at the time by then-Bishop Louis E. Gelineau, was to look into complaints of sexual molestation by clergy and other church employees and conduct an impartial investigation, consistent with law enforcement.
McCarthy left in 2015 and could not be reached for comment.
It was in his role as investigator that McCarthy ended up in the couple’s kitchen asking questions about Barboza in October 1998.
The man told McCarthy that he didn’t want Gamache to be blindsided by Barboza, the way the parishioners had been blindsided by O’Connell, the priest who had been convicted of sex crimes in the 1980s, according to the transcript of their interview.
He urged McCarthy to make sure Gamache and the bishop knew about his story. “But more importantly,” the man said, according to the transcript, “have Dave Barboza removed from the altar and that white robe. Have him stay away from any children.”
McCarthy promised to look into it and advise Gamache, while also making a recommendation to then-Bishop Mulvee, the transcript said.
The man said he never heard from McCarthy again. “He was so professional, I just assumed that he talked to Father Barry,” he said recently. “But 21 years passed, and [Barboza] was still on that altar.”
All this time, the man has wondered why.
The family continued attending Sunday Mass. They avoided receiving Communion from Barboza. They chose a pew where a column blocked the man’s view of the altar. Each time before entering, he knelt and said a prayer.
“I’d be there going over the whole thing in my head and saying, I’ve got to go to heaven, because the ‘Our Father’ says to forgive people who trespassed against you,” he said recently. “And here I am, looking at the one man who . . .”
He became emotional and couldn’t speak.
He and his wife are native Bristolians, married for 27 years, with two grown children. He served in the Marine Corps and has spent 30 years in the civil service. His awards from the Boy Scouts, including two Catholic medals, are in his basement.
This summer, he saw the Globe stories about the men who said they could not escape Barboza, how they were tormented by memories of sexual abuse and left suffering from addiction, homelessness, and depression.
He has a good family, a good home, a good life. He choked up as he wondered how his life would have turned out if things had gone differently that summer day in 1976.
The investigation widens
Meanwhile, McCarthy continued to investigate Barboza, eventually building a thick file on him.
The diocese said in a statement last week that McCarthy had interviewed several witnesses and consulted with the Bristol Police Department on multiple occasions after getting the complaint in 1998.
One witness was a Bristol man, who said that Barboza had molested him at a firehouse in the early 1970s, starting when he was 6. That man’s story was detailed in the original Globe investigation, published July 31.
McCarthy also interviewed Barboza in December 1998, two months after getting the first complaint. Barboza had just been elected to the Bristol Town Council, winning by 10 votes.
The diocese said that Barboza denied all allegations. According to a transcript, Barboza brushed off the accusations as “political smears.”
McCarthy presented all of his findings to Gamache, according to the diocese. Gamache told the Globe that he remembered sitting down with the investigator but didn’t recall much of the discussion. Except, Gamache said, “I know [the diocese] didn’t say to fire [Barboza].”
It wasn’t long before another incident from Barboza’s past came to light at St. Mary’s.
In 1982, Barboza had been indicted on a charge of transporting a 14-year-old boy for indecent purposes. The indictment was dismissed without prejudice, which allowed for the case to be refiled. It wasn’t.
St. Mary’s received reports about that arrest in 2002, 2006 and 2012, the diocese said — noting that the mailings came during political campaigns.
Rick Lavey, a local plumber who frequently clashed with Barboza over town politics, sent an anonymous postcard to St. Mary’s in 2006 that reprinted an article from a local newspaper about Barboza’s arrest.
Six years later, when Barboza was running for town administrator, Lavey sent a letter to Bishop Tobin. “It is so disgusting what Dave Barboza has done in the past and there is probably more than meets the eye,” he wrote.
McCarthy called Lavey to his office and showed him a stack of papers from his investigation into Barboza, according to the diocese transcript of their interview. The investigator said he knew about the 1982 arrest, but told Lavey he was looking for more information, “something that I could use, based on all the material that you see before you here.”
Lavey didn’t have anything new. So, McCarthy told him that he’d add his interview to the file on Barboza and notify Tobin, according to the transcript.
When asked what happened to the investigation, the diocese said in a statement last week that McCarthy’s findings were presented to Gamache “for his consideration.”
Gamache told the Globe that he spoke to Barboza about his arrest when it became an issue during one of the elections, though he didn’t remember exactly when. He said Barboza showed him the court records and explained that the case had been dismissed.
“I believe the court system,” Gamache said.
When the Globe contacted Barboza last week to ask about his involvement at St. Mary’s Church and the diocese investigation, he seemed surprised.
“What does that have to do with the price of cheese in Wisconsin?” he quipped over the phone, his tone breezy.
When a Globe reporter told him the name of the Eagle Scout and the accusations he’d made, Barboza fell silent for a while.
He finally said that he would follow the advice of his lawyer, Fausto C. Anguilla, and decline to comment.
Anguilla also declined to comment.
In his interview after Sunday Mass, the Rev. Gamache said that Barboza offered his resignation when the Globe story was first published.
And after first saying that he was surprised about the accusations, Gamache — when shown his own name in the 1998 transcript detailing the Eagle Scout’s allegations — agreed to discuss what he knew.
The priest said he didn’t know the parishioner who made the complaint, even though the man has attended weekly Mass since 1991, his wife has taught CCD classes, and her family has been part of St. Mary’s for generations.
“I have 1,100 families,” the priest explained.
Since the Globe investigation was published, the State Police have spoken with others who have made accusations against Barboza.
One is a 45-year-old man, who told the Globe that Barboza made sexual advances on him at a party in 1992, when he was 18, and over the last several years, when he sought food and clothing at St. Mary’s Church.
In this case, the alleged abuse occurred on church property.
Several times, the man said, Barboza opened his waistband in the basement and looked down at his penis, saying he wanted to check the man’s pants size. The man, who said he has Asperger’s syndrome and is manic-depressive, said he didn’t tell anyone, because he didn’t know if it was a violation. He spoke to the State Police in August, but they told him the alleged act was outside the criminal statute of limitations.
“If I knew he was going to molest me, I would have told Father Barry,” the man said. “I would have told him [that] I don’t like it when Dave says I look at porn, I don’t like it when he looks down my pants.”
When asked about this accuser, Gamache responded dryly, “Have you talked with him?” His face was impassive. “He has problems,” he said, and had little else to add.
News about Barboza has rocked Bristol and forced a reckoning at places where he’d held sway.
But St. Mary’s, Gamache said, remains a safe place.
Gamache told parishioners in 1997 that he would protect their children. As far as he’s concerned, he’s kept his word.
“I’m not going to change a thing,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ve won people’s trust, people who respect what I’ve done would respect it.”
‘A closed book’
At the church services in the days after Barboza’s resignation in July, Gamache made brief announcements that Barboza was gone. When someone loudly applauded at one Mass, Gamache quickly moved on to items in the bulletin.
Barboza’s contact information was removed from the Aug. 11 bulletin, which had this notice: “For those who might not have heard Father’s statement last week, David E. Barboza is no longer employed at St. Mary’s Parish. We ask that his name be taken off any mailing lists, email lists connected to St. Mary’s. Please don’t send postal mail for his attention to the parish.”
Since then, Gamache hasn’t mentioned Barboza’s name. There has been no public discussion of the accusers — although some are parishioners — or of the controversy roiling the town.
The priest said he sees no reason to say more. “No matter what I say, people are going to misinterpret,” he said.
Some say that is just his way.
“Father Barry is a closed book,” said retired Bristol police chief Josue Canario, who has dealt with Gamache on unrelated matters. “When he closes the book, there’s no reason to reopen the chapter.’”
The Eagle Scout who spoke up in 1998 says that response is not enough. He is furious. His wife is disillusioned.
“There are times when he will tell parishioners that’s the way it’s going to be, and we’ve all been like, ‘OK, that’s Father Barry’s personality,’ ” she said. “But in this situation, do you think we’re that stupid that you can give us that one-line statement, and we’re all just going to turn around next week and say, ‘Oh, it’s OK?’ ”
But as each week goes by, it’s as if Barboza never existed at St. Mary’s.
Sunlight illuminated the restored stained glass windows in the sanctuary, where Gamache gave a homily last month about how to lovingly disagree.
“We don’t attack the person. We expect to argue respectfully,” Gamache instructed. “We have to accept the fact that we will have to agree to disagree, and we have to love one another.”
Sitting with his wife in a back pew, the parishioner who’d been the first to tell the diocese about Barboza listened. He had a clear view of the altar now. His face was stony.
Amanda Milkovits can be reached at email@example.com