St. Patrick’s Church: Catholic Crimes on Cape Cod

By Sarah E. Murphy

Many of the names on this long overdue list of 75 priests credibly accused of sex abuse, finally released by the Fall River Diocese on January 7, are no surprise to me, but they’re a sad validation of the work I’ve been quietly doing for the past three years. “Father Bill” Baker is the reason I started this investigation in the first place. He’s also one of the main reasons I left the Roman Catholic religion, shortly after being confirmed at St. Patrick’s Church in Falmouth as a teenager in the late 1980s.

Jim Scanlan, who is quoted in the article, is a social justice warrior, and one of the first people to support my motivation to expose the Catholic crimes in my hometown. I was introduced to him in 2018 through a dear family friend, although he was already familiar to me as “Kevin from Providence,” the inspiration for a character in the 2015 Oscar winning film “Spotlight,” based on the Boston Globe’s groundbreaking 2002 investigation into the Archdiocese of Boston’s clergy sex abuse cover-up. 

Since Jim came forward about being raped while he was a student at BC High, by hockey coach and teacher Father James Talbot, he has utilized his platform to expose clergy sex abuse and advocate for statute of limitation reform. One of his motivations for doing so was learning Talbot had admitted to abusing and raping up to 88 young men. Knowing he could prevent even one more from the trauma he endured as a teenager, and still endures, was all the motivation he needed, and his testimony was instrumental in putting Talbot behind bars for seven years. As Jim notes, the list is too little too late, and is undoubtedly incomplete. I can see a few omissions from my own research, namely Reverend William Campbell, also from my former parish.

I was just a little too young to be one of Bill Baker’s targets, but he preyed upon several other girls at St. Patrick’s Church in Falmouth, Massachusetts in the late 1970s, back when my family still practiced Catholicism. One of his victims told me her story in graphic detail; she was an eighth-grader at Lawrence School when he first started abusing her. Another woman, who was able to escape his evil intentions, recalls playing tennis with Baker, and the inappropriate comments he made, in an obvious effort to gauge how far he could take his deviant behavior with the young girl. When he decided that she wasn’t a potential target for his advances, he backed off. Classic examples of grooming behavior. Another one of Baker’s victims died by suicide. 

Bill Baker on right, without his signature dark beard during his brief stint at St. Patrick’s in the late 1970s.

There have been other suicides of St. Patrick’s parishioners spanning generations – some of which I’m certain are a result of abuse and others I’ve always suspected may be related. There have been suicides at Catholic parishes all over Falmouth.

Even as a small child, I could practically hear the whispers about “Father Bill,” as he liked to be called, who tried to come off as “down to earth” and “approachable.” Years later, when I read about Paul Shanley, the notorious “street priest,” who seemed to think he was cool, all I could picture was Baker. My mother and some of the women who taught CCD at St. Patrick’s weren’t falling for his Eddie Haskell facade and expressed their concern to each other about his obvious and unapologetic preoccupation with young girls. She also remembers being in the office at St Patrick’s and hearing him on the telephone “whispering sweet nothings” to someone, without seeming to care if anyone heard. A young priest in his late twenties, carrying on like a lovestruck teenager. One of the more assertive women called the Fall River Diocese, then led by Bishop Daniel Cronin, to register a complaint on behalf of the group, but their observation fell on deaf ears, for parishioners aren’t supposed to question the Church, especially those who are female.

And then just as suddenly as he arrived, Father Bill disappeared one night, with no explanation. When people immediately started asking questions, some of whom were unaware of his predatory ways and therefore devastated by his departure, we were all told Baker had suffered a nervous breakdown, a line now known to be straight from the Catholic playbook. However, my mom recalls asking Father James McCarthy, head of St. Patrick’s at the time, about Baker’s whereabouts and being told swiftly, “Don’t worry. He’s gone and that’s the end of that.” 

I know why he left, and exactly what prompted his abrupt and unceremonious exit. It’s why I’m dedicated to investigating the crimes that were committed in my hometown and honoring the lives that have been shattered, both directly and indirectly, by abusive priests and the bishops who enabled them by looking the other way and shuffling them off to another parish. How many more girls did Baker go on to rape? How many did he rape when he was at his first assignment in Attleboro, before coming to Falmouth? I know of at least one.

Then there’s Joseph Maguire, Father Joe, who came to “St. Pat’s” in the early 80s.  He’s also listed as being affiliated with the Boy Scouts of Cape Cod, and had a gimmicky thing where he’d invite all the children of the parish up close to the altar to listen to his sermons and likened it to telling them a bedtime story. Something about it and him just didn’t ring true to me, or to the rest of my family, for we were some of the Holden Caulfields of the parish, yet we had every reason to call out phonies. What we somehow suspected might be occurring was actually happening, but no one had words for it back then.

Predator priest Joe Maguire, whose last name is often misspelled, was also at St. Patrick’s in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

Father Joe was at St. Patrick’s when I had to go on a creepy overnight retreat, a requirement for Confirmation, which I had zero interest in pursuing in the first place, and only did because I thought it was important to my parents. The whole experience was very cult-like, taking us all away from our families, hearing melodramatic stories of redemption from guest speakers, all male, whose qualifications were a mystery, and receiving even more melodramatic letters that family and friends had been instructed to write. Lots of tears for no necessary reason. All of it felt like mind control, and I couldn’t wait to get home. 

Monsignor Maurice Souza of St. Anthony’s Parish in East Falmouth abused my friend Dan Sherwood for nearly a decade. After months of off the record meetings with me, Dan asked me to write his story, and we eventually took it to Vatican City, where he shared it with the world through international media during the Pope’s summit in 2019, which was nothing more than another publicity stunt by Francis. Jose Avila and Gilbert Simoes, who went on to work at Falmouth High School, are both pedophiles and rapists, who targeted countless young men, prior to Souza. When recently visiting the grave of my dear friend at St. Anthony’s, I was perplexed and disgusted to discover they are buried with pomp and circumstance in a special clergy plot behind the parish. One of Avila’s victims took his own life, and his son later died in the same manner. Two generations, an entire family, destroyed by the Catholic Church. Avila and Simoes should be exhumed immediately.

There is so much to write on this topic, it has impacted countless lives, in Falmouth and beyond. This is just the beginning of accountability for criminals and healing for survivors. If you’re a victim of clergy sex abuse, please remember, it’s not your fault, and you’re not alone. For resources and outreach, visit SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). If you’d like to share your experience with me, either on or off the record, please contact me at sarah@falmouthstyle.com. Your story will be safe with me, and your wishes will always be respected. 

Chance of Snow

By Sarah E. Murphy

School night snowstorms 

were the highlight of those long, dark winters.

Dad was a misguided meteorologist 

with only the best intentions.

When he professed

“there’ll be no school tomorrow!” 

with cheerful certainty 

we could plan 

on the screech and halt 

of the bus flying down Grand Ave

so we learned early on to be hopeful

when he was doubtful.

I’d peer outside my window 

my nose freezing against the icy glass

staring at the sky for signs

listening for a message in the wind.

Ted would call his friend John,

the superintendent’s son

in an effort to obtain 

classified information.

In the early hours

after restless sleep 

I’d resume my post 

trying not to wake Courtney

to see a torrent of white 

falling under the streetlight 

by the O’Connors’ house 

and into the inky black ocean 

of the Heights.

We didn’t really know

there was magic 

in those moments 

when all was silent but for the hiss 

of snowflakes making contact. 

Later that morning

after the donning of many layers 

we sought satisfaction 

in leaving the first footprints 

at the ballpark

drifts crunching under our feet

as we staggered to meet the McEvoy girls 

barely recognizable 

in their parkas and moon boots. 

At day’s end 

mittens and snow pants 

would swim in puddles by the coal stove 

while we savored our Swiss Miss

celebrating simple joys. 

Sarah E. Murphy/Copyright 2010

A Sort of Homecoming: Unsung Heroes of The Forgotten War

By James F. Murphy Jr. (1932-2015)

Intro by Sarah E. Murphy

Write what you know. It’s what my father always told his students, but I always reiterated to him, for I believe his best writing is autobiographical. His words had an elegant cadence, full of rich description and poetic alliteration, no matter the subject. He wrote the following essay in the summer of 2008, after watching Barack Obama address a diverse and jubilant crowd in St. Paul, Minnesota, when he became the presumptive nominee of the Democratic party, and the first African-American to do so.

My father was overcome with emotion, for many reasons, and penned the following reflection, which I typed for him and submitted to the Cape Cod Times for consideration; it was published later that summer.

My father is pictured first from the left in the top row, at age 20, at basic training. He didn’t meet his friend, Nickie, whom he honors in this essay, until he was in Korea, and he never forgot him. Over the years, my dad and I tried to find Nickie, but we didn’t have much to go on. I searched the web and followed-up on a few leads, with no luck.

There are so many times I’ve pondered my dad’s words – while watching Colin Kaepernick kneel in peaceful protest, while holding a sign and waving to my fellow Cape Codders to respectfully demand racial justice, or while watching Spike Lee’s fictional account of the very real experience of the African-American soldier in his riveting film, “Da 5 Bloods.”

This morning, I thought of my father and Mr. Nickie, and how grateful they would be to see their sacrifices being respectfully honored by President-Elect Joseph Biden and his wife, First Lady-Elect Dr. Jill Biden at Philadelphia’s Korean War Memorial. And how jubilant they would be to see the United States has finally joined the more evolved and sophisticated countries around the globe by finally sending a woman to the White House – one of Jamaican and Indian descent.

On this Veterans Day, I send my deepest gratitude to all who have fought for our freedom, but especially the heroes who have been forgotten, overlooked, and taken for granted because of their skin color.

This is for you…

A Sort of Homecoming: Unsung Heroes of the Forgotten War

By James Francis Murphy Jr.

Recently, as I watched Barack Obama speaking to an audience of people from all walks of life, my thoughts traveled back over 50 years to a troop train and a five-day trip from Fort Lawton, Washington to New York City.

We soldiers on board were returning from service in Korea and we settled in comfortably, “compliments” of the United States Government. My friend, Nickie, an African-American, referred to as a “Negro” in those days, took the top bunk and I took the lower.

“I like it up here, Jimbo. I feel like Jimmy Cagney in White Heat. ‘Top of the world!’” he said, followed by a pretty good Cagney impersonation.

I responded with my best Walter Brennan, and we began five days of laughing and sharing our impersonations of movie stars.

We had met in a field hospital, where Nickie was receiving treatment for wounds he had suffered earlier when on night patrol and, I, less dramatically, was there recuperating from a bout with malaria.

My father’s experience in the Korean War shaped his lifelong anti-war stance, for he was profoundly affected by the human toll. He later suffered from PTSD in the form of night terrors.

We hit it off immediately, but after our release from the hospital, we lost touch with one another until we met at a staging area in Fort Lawton, just a few days before we embarked on the journey home. Despite the passing of time, we picked up where we had left off.

Once on board, Fred, the African-American porter, took good care of us, along with the eight other soldiers in his assigned station. As he sat on the edge of my bunk, Fred regaled us with stories of his years as a Pullman porter, while Nickie listened intently from his perch above.

Fred mentioned a name I have never forgotten, Mr. A. Phillip Randolph. “Yes, sir. He is my hero, and a hero of all the Georges.” Fred nodded.

“Georges?” I asked.

He smiled. “All the porters are called “Georges” because of George Pullman, the founder and owner of the Pullman Company. And Mr. Randolph is our hero because he fought to unionize us. He certainly improved our lives.”

“Should we call you George?” Nickie laughed.

“No, call me Mr. Fred and I’ll call you Mr. Nickie and Mr. Jim. Is that okay with you?”

Throughout the following days, Nickie and I caught up on our meeting in the hospital, and the laughs we had shared. We would stand out on the iron platform between the two cars and swap stories of sergeants we knew and loved and, well, the others.

As we talked, the lurching train twisted through the narrow corridors of the Dakotas, past valleys and lofty mountains, brushed alongside the green rows of Wisconsin farms that stretched for acres, and on toward the cattle of Nebraska that grazed in the sweet sweep of grassland.

“Boy, it really is a big country, Nickie,” I marveled.

“Sure is,” he sighed. “Sure is.”

One night, as we stood on the platform, with the scent of apple and berry orchards and the pinch of pine in the air, Nickie seemed alone in his thoughts, even though I was at arm’s length. For some reason, I was mature enough to linger quietly as the clattering and rattling of the tracks below seemed to accentuate what was unsaid but palpable.

Finally, he turned to me. “You know, Jimbo, I don’t think I’ll ever play baseball again. I was a damn good pitcher. But, that shrapnel tore a lot from that shoulder. I’ll miss baseball. But, I suppose a guy can’t play a game for the rest of his life,” he joked.

“Nickie, I read somewhere they can do wonders these days with wounds and injuries,” I pronounced with the naïve confidence of a 21-year-old.

“Yeah, we’ll see. Hey, maybe I’ll come visit you and we can go see Ted Williams and the Red Sox.”

The stories of the war, baseball, girlfriends, and movies passed too quickly as we raced East and then quite suddenly, we were pulling into New York and Penn Station on the morning of August 10th. We looked out the windows of our bunks, and instead of the vast prairies we had left behind, we craned our necks at the towering buildings of Manhattan.

“It’s over, Nickie,” I yelled up to him. “We’re in New York City.”

“Yeah, we are. It’s been a great ride, Jimbo.”

Later, as I stood in front of a full-length mirror in an antechamber outside the men’s room combing my hair, Mr. Fred stepped in.

“Well, now, look at Mr. Jim getting all gussied up to meet the ladies.” And then suddenly, his tone became serious. “I wouldn’t go into the men’s room if I were you, Mr. Jim,” he warned.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because Mr. Nickie is in there.”

“I don’t get it. What difference does that make?”

“He’s crying.”

“He’s crying? Why is he crying? We’re going home.”

“Where do you live, Mr. Jim?”

“You know where I live. Outside of Boston.”

“Mr. Nickie lives in Mississippi.” He shook his head and left.

In the excitement that poured out of us like a river, we grabbed our bags and headed for the buses to take us to Camp Kilmer in New Jersey to be discharged from the Army. I never saw Nickie again and I didn’t even have his address.

So the other evening as I watched Barack Obama, a five-day journey that took place over half a century ago came flashing back, almost as if it were yesterday, and I thought of my friend.

I found it difficult to keep the tears back as Barack Obama, the first African-American presidential nominee, spoke before a stadium of supporters. I hoped that somewhere, Nickie was watching, his eyes moist and hopeful, and I thought, ‘Top of the world, dear friend. You have finally come home.’

James F. Murphy Jr., Veterans Day, 2013, after a public reading of his essay “Freedom Village,” the lead story in Chicken Soup for The Veterans Soul.
Photo by Sarah E. Murphy