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Priest, 80, suspended over '50s sex charges

©Associated Press

February 8, 2003

PALM BEACH GARDENS -- The Diocese of Palm Beach suspended an 80-year-old priest this week, decades after the Boston Archdiocese learned of allegations that he had sex with teenage girls.

Four teenage girls from three parishes accused the Rev. Richard G. Johnson of sexual misconduct in the 1950s, according to documents the Boston Archdiocese released this week. The archdiocese responded by transferring Johnson and sending him to a psychiatrist who reported that Johnson was "adolescent and has a psychopathic personality," according to the documents.

The Boston Archdiocese recommended Johnson's suspension under strict new rules against sex abuse.

Deacon Sam Barbaro, a spokesman for the Palm Beach diocese, said Johnson has served as a priest at Emanuel Church in Delray Beach during the winter months since 2001.

Boston Cardinal Bernard Law, who received a January 1998 memorandum about the sexual misconduct charges, recommended Johnson's move to Florida in 1998 and wrote that he was of "good character and reputation." He added, "I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minors."

Last year Law, under fire for lax handling of clerical sex abuse cases, resigned as archbishop.

Johnson could not be reached for comment Friday.

Documents released so far bring to 135 the number of priests accused of sex abuse in the Boston Archdiocese. Some cases go back decades.

Johnson's suspension comes four months after Sean Patrick O'Malley, known for tough policies against sexual abuse, was installed as bishop of the Palm Beach diocese. He replaced Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell, who resigned in March after admitting improper relations with a student at a Missouri seminary in the late 1970s.

In 1998, Bishop J. Keith Symons resigned after admitting he molested five altar boys decades earlier.

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