How the Boston Archdiocese Is Handling Accused Priests Today,
Based on Its Own Documents
By Anne Barrett Doyle
March 11, 2011
How many names of accused
priests is Cardinal O’Malley concealing from the public?
At least 40, by his own admission. In March 2010, the Cardinal’s
Delegate, Rev. John Connolly, informed the Archdiocesan Pastoral
Council that the Archdiocese was planning to release a list of 155
accused priest names, of which 40 “may be new names.”
It’s unacceptable that a year later, the Archdiocese is still
withholding from the public the names of 40 accused priests. It’s
also of concern that its list will name only 155 accused priests.
In a secret report written by the Archdiocese's Delegate in 2000
– two years before the crisis broke – the archdiocese
noted that complainants of sexual abuse had identified 191 priests.
And in his 2003 report, Attorney General Reilly stated that 237
priests have been accused of child sexual abuse.
Has Cardinal O’Malley
kept accused priests in ministry?
Yes – and we don’t know who most of them are. According
to a largely overlooked archdiocesan report released in April 2006,
Cardinal O’Malley’s Review Board “cleared”
45% (32 of 71) of priests investigated for child sexual abuse from
July 2003 through December 2005. We’ve scrutinized all public
announcements made by the Archdiocese during this period. The names
of at least 25 of these cleared priests still are not known.
Cardinal O’Malley’s 45% clearance rate of accused priests
is large compared to that of all US dioceses. Catholic Church officials
nationwide in 2005 deemed only 10% of allegations false or unsubstantiated.
Since December 2005, the Archdiocese surely has investigated dozens
of additional priests. We don’t know who they are or how their
cases were resolved; the Archdiocese has not made public its Review
Board outcomes in more than five years. One useful comparison case
is the audit done by the New Hampshire attorney general. The NH
AG audited the Manchester diocese's handling of child abuse complaints,
and found that in the period late 2002 to mid-2007, the Manchester
diocese received complaints regarding 27 clerics not previously
identified as accused. Without the NH AG's audit, the names of those
accused clerics would not be known today.
Does Cardinal O’Malley’s
policy require him to remove accused priests from ministry pending
No. This is one of the biggest misconceptions of the bishops’
post-2002 procedures. The “zero tolerance” policy in
fact allows bishops to keep priests in ministry while they are investigated.
According to the Essential Norms ratified by the Vatican, a bishop
does not have to remove a cleric until an act of sexual abuse “is
admitted or is established after an appropriate process in accord
with canon law.” This can take months or years, and the bishop
need not notify the public during this time.
The Archdiocese’s published policy confirms that the removal
of a priest who is under investigation is not mandatory: “For
the period of the preliminary investigation, the Archbishop may
request that an accused cleric voluntarily refrain from the public
exercise of sacred ministry …” However, if the accused
is a lay employee, the Archdiocese’s response is strict: “[T]he
supervisor will immediately place the accused person on administrative
In February 2011, a grand jury convened by the Philadelphia District
Attorney reported that 37 accused priests of the Archdiocese of
Philadelphia were still in ministry. The grand jury determined that
Philadelphia's Review Board, as mandated by the 2002 Essential Norms,
and implemented in Boston too, played an important role in those
cases. The hidden laxness of the Catholic Church’s “zero
tolerance” policy explains why this dangerous situation is
still possible, in Philadelphia, Boston, and elsewhere.