An attorney yesterday filed a civil lawsuit accusing the Boston Archdiocese, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, top bishops, and other church administrators of conspiring to cover up the activities of sexually abusive priests for more than 50 years.
The suit, filed on behalf of 27 unidentified individuals who say they were abused or assaulted by a total of 12 priests, alleges church officials failed to respond to complaints of sexual abuse, protected the perpetrators, and “actively sought to cover up the evidence of such abuse.”
“This has been going on for years and years and years,” said Carmen L. Durso, the Boston lawyer who filed the suit. “Individuals in the diocese have been aware that it’s been going on and haven’t done anything about it.”
Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said she had no comment because church officials had not received a copy of the suit. “Until we receive something, there’s not much we can say,” Morrissey said.
Defendants in the lawsuit, in addition to Law, include three of the cardinal’s former top aides: Bishop John B. McCormack of the Manchester, N.H., Diocese, Bishop Robert J. Banks of the Green Bay, Wis., Diocese, and Bishop Thomas V. Daily of the Brooklyn Diocese.
Church documents released earlier this year under court orders issued in connection with other lawsuits show that Law and the three bishops played significant roles in reassigning several priests after they had been accused of sexual misconduct. Law has said he acted, in every case presented to him, on the basis of the advice given to him by his aides. McCormack, Banks, and Daily have all denied any wrongdoing.
Among the priests reassigned after allegations were made against them were the Revs. Paul R. Shanley and Robert V. Gale, each of whom has pleaded not guilty to criminal charges of child rape. Shanley and Gale are among eight current and former priests also listed as defendants in the lawsuit.
The suit also names priests who are not defendants in criminal or previously filed civil actions. One is the Rev. John E. McLaughlin, the pastor at St. Benedict Church in Somerville.
The suit does not provide details of the alleged abuse or assaults committed by any of the priests named. But Durso said the allegation against McLaughlin was made by an adult man who says the priest touched his groin in the St. Benedict rectory when the man sought counseling last June. “He got close to him and he started rubbing his back then started touching his groin,” Durso said.
McLaughlin did not return telephone calls yesterday afternoon.
The living defendants in the lawsuit are the Revs. Edward T. Kelley and Bernard J. Lane and former priests Paul J. Mahan, Richard T. Coughlin, and Patrick J. Tague.
Tague has had other legal troubles. In 1979, he was given a suspended prison sentence, fined $600, and placed on probation for three years after being convicted in the 1976 theft of $30,000 from a Hyde Park halfway house for juvenile delinquents. Reached at his Dorchester home yesterday, Tague said he had no comment.
The lawsuit also names four deceased priests, accusing the archdiocese of covering up alleged sexual misconduct by the Revs. Leonard Stanton, Paul Moriarty, Thomas F. Dempsey, and Joseph W. Kenney.