To Reilly, Faith's No Handicap

By Bill Zajac
The Republican [Springfield MA]
July 27, 2003

When State Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly recited the rosary with his immigrant Irish parents every night while growing up in Springfield, no one would have imagined that someday he would produce a public document highly critical of the Catholic Church.

"I was raised in a household that valued its Catholic religion," Reilly said Thursday.

He credited his family's religion and faith for holding them together during a stressful period in the early 1940s, which was about the time that the Archdiocese of Boston began keeping secret records of accusations of child sexual abuse by priests.

Putting aside his faith and religion last week, the state's top prosecutor released a report detailing sexual abuse that "was so massive and so prolonged that it bordered on the unbelievable."

Reilly, who, as a child, attended Mass daily during Lent at St. Michael's Cathedral in Springfield, expressed frustration that he could not prosecute church leaders.

"They ... in effect, were sacrificing children" to protect the church's reputation, he said last week at a news conference announcing the findings of a 16-month investigation into sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Any claim that Bernard F. Cardinal Law and other top church officials did not know about the abuse lacks credibility, Reilly said.

However, the state's laws at the time of the sexual abuse prevented him from charging any church leaders.

Reilly's report, based upon secret church records, showed allegations of sexual abuse by 789 victims involving 237 priests.

The day after the release of the report, Reilly said he had no intention of pursuing an investigation in any of the other three dioceses in the state, including Springfield.

In the Springfield Diocese, neither church officials nor local law enforcement officials who have access to church records have expressed any desire to release information that would show the extent of clerical abuse.

What is known is that in the last 18 months, 43 complaints of misconduct have been made against 30 diocesan workers - including 25 priests - in the Springfield diocese.

Also, the Springfield Diocese paid $1.4 million in the early 1990s to settle the suits of 17 men who had accused the Rev. Richard R. Lavigne of abusing them as minors. In the past year or so, 14 additional suits have been filed charging Lavigne with sexual abuse.

Reilly said the Boston figures do not accurately represent the abuse.

"I can tell you over the past 18 months, there has been rarely a time at a large public gathering when I haven't been approached by victims who say they can't come forward," he said.

He refused to comment on what has occurred in any other diocese based upon his investigation.

Reilly said he pursued the investigation in the archdiocese only after reading Law's public comments in early 2002 that indicated he had not been reporting any allegations of sexual abuse to civil authorities.

Reilly credited the Legislature for passing a law that makes the clergy mandated reporters of suspected abuse.

"If the conduct that happened (in 1940-2000) took place in the past year with our new laws, it would be a far different outcome today," he said. "No one is more disappointed than I that we cannot bring criminal charges against the church's top management."

Reilly's office remains in contact with the office of Hampden County District Attorney William M. Bennett regarding sexual abuse.

On the day that Reilly issued the report, Bennett refused a telephone request for an interview. The Springfield Diocese has been sharing records of sexual abuse allegations with the three offices of DAs in Western Massachusetts since March 2002.

Church officials also failed to address the issue of public disclosure of sexual abuse allegations.

The Civil Rights Division of Reilly's office has monitored, and will continue to monitor, the Springfield Diocese regarding its policies and procedures in handling allegations of abuse. Reilly said he hopes the policies and procedures that the archdiocese is creating can some day serve as a model for others.

However, his report criticized the archdiocese's recently adopted policies, including the one that exempts bishops from being held accountable.

Reilly said he released the findings of the investigation in a 76-page report in order to have a public record of what he called one of the worst tragedies involving children in the history of Massachusetts.

The report mentioned by name many church leaders who were involved in keeping the abuse secret. It did not mention the Most Rev. Joseph F. Maguire, bishop-emeritus of the Springfield Diocese.

Maguire was an auxiliary bishop in Boston in the early 1970s, when the allegations of abuse were most frequent, according to the attorney general's report.

Maguire was a Boston bishop in 1972-76 before being appointed coadjutor bishop of Springfield.

He was the bishop of the Springfield diocese when allegations of sexual abuse against several priests became public in the late 1980s and early 1990s, including criminal charges against Lavigne.

Maguire resigned in 1992. Shortly afterward, his successor, the Most Rev. John A. Marshall, established the all-lay misconduct commission to handle allegations of misconduct.

Reilly said he had no difficulty in separating his faith and religion from the investigation.

"A lot of the values we have don't come solely from the church," he said. "The values I learned came from my home and were reinforced by the church."

Reilly was born in February 1942 in Springfield. Two months before his birth, a series of tragedies started to befall his family.

A few days before Christmas 1941, 14-year-old John Francis Reilly, a brother the attorney general would never know, was killed as he rode his bicycle home from making deliveries. The Cathedral High School freshman struck a pedestrian, and then was hit by a small truck on Worthington Street.

Six priests participated in his funeral Mass.

When the attorney general was 14, his brother, James, while working as a surveyor, was hit and killed by a dump truck at what is now Westover Joint Air Reserve Base.

Two years later, when Reilly was 16, his father, Mortimer Reilly, was found dead at home after a heart attack.

It left the attorney general's mother, Bridie, to care for Thomas and his three remaining siblings.

Despite the findings of his report, the 61-year-old Reilly said last week that he has the same respect for Catholicism, and the same faith, as when he was much younger.

"I am proud to be a Catholic," he said. "This (investigation) is not about my religion. The Catholic faith and religion teaches the basic values of what is right and what is wrong. The Catholic faith teaches us to protect the most vulnerable, particularly the children.

"This is about the massive and inexcusable failure of the leadership in the Archdiocese of Boston."


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