Archdiocese settles wrongful death lawsuit

The Archdiocese of Boston has a settled a wrongful death lawsuit with the adult children of archdiocesan priest Father James D. Foley. A Jan. 29 statement from the archdiocese announcing the settlement deplored sexual relations between priests and parishioners calling them “inherently exploitive.”

Personnel files released in December 2002 revealed that the priest had had a long-term affair with Rita Perry of Needham beginning in the early 1960s. According to the files, Father Foley admitted to Church officials that he was the father of two of Perry’s four children and had been with her when she died of an overdose in 1973.

Father Foley’s children, James, now 39, and Emily, now 33, grew up knowing nothing about the priest. Details about the case appearing on a newscast raised the suspicions of Perry’s children that Father Foley may have been their father. DNA testing later confirmed his paternity.

Soon after, the Perry family filed the wrongful death suit against the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Boston settled the suit for an undisclosed amount. The Associated Press reported that Cardinal Bernard Law would meet with Perry’s children as part of the agreement. According to the statement, Archbishop Seán P. O’Malley has already met with the Perry family to apologize for the affair and for all their family has “suffered since the revelation of these tragic events last year.”

Archbishop O’Malley “sincerely regrets” that Father Foley had a sexual relationship with Rita Perry and that he was involved in the “tragic circumstances of her death,” the statement said.

“This tragic situation illustrates the inherently exploitive and harmful nature of sexual relationships between priests and parishioners,” the archdiocese continued.

According to Father Foley’s files, he informed Church officials that he had been with Rita Perry the night that she died. Father Foley claimed that Rita Perry had taken pills and fainted, leading him to flee the house. He allegedly returned to the house later and called the police.

The statement went on to cite the archdiocesan Code of Ministerial Behavior, which was promulgated in October 2003 and details appropriate behavior between clergy and parishioners and enforces boundaries that should be adhered to.

“That policy makes clear that priests of the archdiocese, as well as other archdiocesan personnel, must never engage in any covert or overt sexual behavior with those for whom they have a professional or pastoral responsibility,” the archdiocese said in its statement. “Sexual relationships between a priest and any person are never appropriate, are a violation of the sacred vow of celibacy and are a violation of the trust which parishioners place in their priests.”

The Code of Ministerial Behavior was issued ad experimentum, a Latin term meaning “for temporary or provisional use,” for one year in order to allow for feedback from archdiocesan agencies and personnel and the lay faithful. In the Jan. 29 statement, the archdiocese announced that members of the Perry family have been asked to review the code and provide their input.

The archbishop also asked James Perry to participate in an archdiocesan advisory board being formed by the Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach.

Associated Press materials contributed to this story.