Inexcusable: AG: Church Ignored Priests Molesting Hundreds

By Robin Washington and Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald
July 24, 2003

A cultural acceptance of child sexual abuse and an "inexcusable failure of leadership" led to 789 documented cases of molestation - and likely hundreds more - by 250 Archdiocese of Boston priests and church workers dating back 60 years, a report released yesterday by Attorney General Tom Reilly concluded.

"The numbers are staggering - we never expected this," Reilly told the Herald. "There was a longstanding institutional acceptance of this behavior. They sat on this secret for a long, long time."

Reilly called the overall scandal "one of, if not the, greatest tragedy to befall the children of the commonwealth, ever."

The monetary cost to the church in settlements and treatment alone has exceeded $20 million in the last decade, the report estimates.

Reilly's report, the result of a 16-month probe and grand jury investigation, lambasted Bernard Cardinal Law and his former lieutenants, concentrating most of its fire on Law's 19-year stewardship of the Boston archdiocese.

Reilly's key findings are:

No church higher-ups broke any laws on the books when the sex abuse by clergy occurred.

The church long tolerated the abuse in the name of secrecy.

There is no evidence of ongoing abuse or coverup, but "it is far too soon to conclude the abuse has . . . stopped or could not reoccur."

Law "had direct knowledge of the scope, duration and severity of the crisis experienced by children in the archdiocese," Reilly's report says of the former archbishop, who quit in December. "Cardinal Law bears ultimate responsibility for the tragic treatment of children that occurred during his tenure."

While placing blame on Law, Reilly said the problem is not in the past and he is unconvinced the church has complete remedies in place to prevent future abuse.

Primarily, "the archdiocese must end the culture of secrecy that has protected the institution at the expense of children," he said.

While much of the report assails past acts, Reilly also finds fault with current archdiocese practices aimed at preventing abuse.

He said the job of responding to abuse should be taken away from the church and put into the hands of a new Independent Victim's Assistance Board, "financed by, but unaffiliated with, the archdiocese."

Despite his reservations, Reilly said children in the archdiocese are better protected today due to a law passed last year creating a child endangerment statute and another making clergy mandated reporters of child abuse.

He disagreed on the efficacy of extending the statute of limitations on abuse as a means of accommodating victims who take years to report child molestation. "We'll continue to review that," he said.

Archdiocesan spokesman the Rev. Christopher Coyne called the report "fair" but said it failed to acknowledge affirmative steps the church has taken. "It really doesn't give us much credit for the things that we've already done," he said.

Coyne said the church will treat child sexual abuse as a criminal matter, "end any culture of secrecy" and "implement comprehensive and effective measures to prevent child abuse." He said the report has been given to Archbishop-designate Sean P. O'Malley.

The report follows similar reviews of Catholic dioceses by the attorney general of New Hampshire and district attorneys in Suffolk County, N.Y., and Phoenix.

In New Hampshire and Arizona, Catholic leaders agreed to deals with authorities to stave off prosecution. But Reilly said no such leverage was available to him here.

Reilly's report explains why his office felt no charges were possible against church supervisors.

The state's "accessory after the fact" statute requires proof the defendant aided a felon specifically to help him escape arrest, and its "accessory before the fact" law requires proof that the defendant shared the felon's state of mind.

"Conspiracy" requires proof the defendant entered into a criminal pact with the felon, while "obstruction of justice" requires interference with sworn testimony.

Reilly said none of those laws applied: "The investigation did not produce evidence senior archdiocese managers encouraged priests to abuse children, intended that priests would abuse children, intended to obstruct justice by helping abusive priests avoid arrest or punishment (or) interfered with the testimony or role of a witness."

Reilly said he also looked into prosecuting church leaders under criminal laws outlawing corporate agents from benefiting from illegal acts. He found no "evidence the archdiocese benefited by priests sexually abusing children."

"We are as frustrated as anyone else" by the lack of prosecution, Reilly said. "Victims have called me today crying - some have said `thanks for trying.' "

Ann Hagan Webb of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests asked why the Bay State's accessory after the fact statute could not have been used. She and other victim advocates will question Reilly on the statute in a meeting with him this morning.

Plaintiffs attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr. praised Reilly for his report but said he believed accessory or obstruction of justice charges could have been filed and the AG could still take civil action against the church.

"I hope the attorney general will reconsider to intervene on the civil side and file a civil rights enforcement action against the Archdiocese of Boston because he himself questions whether children are really safe," he said.

Jim Post, president of the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful, called the report "chilling." He demanded church leaders who covered up abuse resign.

VOTF member Margaret Roylance called for "safety committees" in every parish to oversee the child abuse protection teams recommended by the archdiocese's blue ribbon committee on child abuse.

Alleged victim John Harris gave the AG a mixed review.

"We thank the attorney for coming out with it. We're sorry more imagination couldn't have been used," he said.

Marie Szaniszlo contributed to this report.


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