Church Accountability the First Step in Healing

The Republican [Springfield MA]
July 25, 2003

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly is a good Catholic.

And on Wednesday he spoke for all good Catholics, as well as for the state, when he condemned the Archdiocese of Boston for a "massive inexcusable failure" to protect children from molestation by men who cloaked themselves in priestly garb to prey on the powerless.

The attorney general's report follows a lengthy criminal investigation, which accused the diocese of six decades of "institutional acceptance of abuse" that allowed the sexual victimization of more than 1,000 people by priests and church workers.

While the report singled out Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in December, for the strongest rebuke, it charged his senior managers of complicity by failing to advise him to take steps that could have prevented the "systematic abuse of children."

The tarnished reputation and crumbling credibility of the church will have to suffice as punishment, however, because Reilly said he is hamstrung by state laws that are too weak to allow criminal charges to be filed against the hierarchy.

The fact that state laws were so ineffective underscores the special status the church has enjoyed in society at large. The "above-the-law" status enabled the church leaders to engage in a conspiracy of silence that led to the mistreatment of children that Reilly said bordered on the "unbelievable."

Since the sex abuse scandal was uncovered, the archdiocese has taken steps to prevent child abuse by priests - and the Legislature has added the clergy to the list of professionals who must report suspicions of abuse.

It is an important step. Currently failure to report such credible suspicions results in a $1,000 fine. We agree with Reilly's recommendation that the penalty be increased to a maximum $25,000 fine and 2??ar prison term.

Catholics in Western Massachusetts should be disappointed with the Springfield Diocese's response to Reilly's report. In a five-sentence statement, the diocese only addressed measures it is taking to prevent future abuses - and was mum about the extent of the scandal locally.

It is time for the local diocese to come clean. The public - and the victims of sexual abuse - deserve that much. Only then can the church's faithful help rebuild the institution's reputation.

Good Catholics and good citizens must demand it.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.