Chorus Associates Meet, Discuss Suspended Priest
More than 120 people, including parents and past and current members of the All-American Boys Chorus, gathered at a special meeting Thursday night to discuss sexual molestation allegations against the choir’s suspended director, Father Richard T. Coughlin.
As they entered the closed-door meeting, some expressed support for Coughlin, 68, founder and longtime director of the internationally known singing group who was suspended last month amid allegations that he sexually molested four choir members and another youth 10 to 30 years ago.
Coughlin has denied the charges.
Pam Toomey, who has two sons in the chorus, said Coughlin is “a great man. Our kids have had an incredible experience. He’s given them something great--drive and hope.”
Steve Rindahl, a parent of a former chorus member, said he also supports Coughlin and expressed dismay over the priest’s suspension.
Rindahl said he would like to see Coughlin reinstated as chorus director, but added, “I don’t think we have any say in the matter. The church would probably have to reverse its decision to allow him to come back. . . . It’s a very unfortunate thing. There was no judicial process. What kind of a system is that?”
The Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange suspended Coughlin from his duties as a priest Jan. 29 and ordered him to sever all ties with the chorus after five men, now 23 to 45, alleged that he molested them as boys.
Diocese officials identified four of the accusers as former chorus members. The fifth man alleged Coughlin molested him while in Boston, where Coughlin was a priest before coming to California in 1965.
Coughlin, who church officials said is living with an Orange County family, could not be reached for comment.
John E. Dunn, a member of the chorus board of directors, said before Thursday night’s meeting that the chorus is determined to put the controversy behind it.
“We want to move forward like Father Coughlin would want us to,” Dunn said.
The controversy does not mean the end of the group, he emphasized.
“Father Coughlin did an awful lot of good for the chorus,” Dunn said. “Everything that happened is done and over with, and we’re going forward. There’s no sense in beating this into the ground.”
Many parents, associates and members of the chorus have rallied to Coughlin’s defense since his suspension was made public.
Frank Broccolo, 14, a chorus member, said he could not imagine anyone accusing Coughlin of any wrongdoing.
“I’ve known Father for six years, and he showed as much affection to me as my father did to me. He was my best friend,” the youngster said.
Michael Foster, 17, said he was a chorus member for six years. Like some other chorus members and parents, he criticized the church’s investigative process.
“I feel like it’s only one side of the story,” he said. ". . . They really have no proof other than what someone is saying. It’s kind of like they dropped him and then disappeared.”
Diocese officials have defended the suspension of Coughlin, saying they acted in accordance with guidelines established by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops last year. The guidelines set up a mechanism for dealing promptly with sexual abuse allegations leveled at clergy members. The system, they said, provided Coughlin a forum from which to defend himself.
The chorus, founded in 1970, is a nonprofit group group not funded by or affiliated with the Catholic Church. Coughlin needed church permission to act as its director.
Times staff writer Greg Hernandez contributed to this story.