Church's Abuse Accomplices Go Scot-Free
By Steve Chapman
Baltimore Sun [Chicago IL]
July 29, 2003
CHICAGO - Father John Geoghan preyed on children for a long time. The first complaint to his superiors in the Archdiocese of Boston came in 1979. The last one came in 1992. Not until 1993 was he removed from his parish position.
His years in the priesthood gave him innumerable opportunities to find victims. In all, some 150 people have accused him of sexual abuse. Last year, he was convicted of fondling a 10-year-old boy in 1991 and sentenced to nine to 10 years in prison.
It would be a mistake, though, to put all or even most of the blame on Mr. Geoghan for yielding to his grotesque impulses. He may have acted alone, but he had a lot of help. And while he's in jail, the people who enabled him to commit his crimes are free as a bird.
One of those is Robert J. Banks, who for six years was second-in-command to Cardinal Bernard F. Law in the Archdiocese of Boston. Among the findings of a new report by the attorney general of Massachusetts is that Robert Banks performed invaluable services to the abuser.
He not only declined to tell authorities about allegations against the priest, the report said, but "was not candid when interviewed during an active criminal investigation." Even after concluding that Mr. Geoghan was a danger to children, Robert Banks left him in his parish ministry for weeks, without supervision.
You'd think a church official who so grossly neglected his duty to his flock would pay a high price for the lapse. Not so. Since 1990, Robert Banks has occupied the esteemed post of bishop of Green Bay, Wis.
The attorney general's report is one of the most revolting documents you will ever read. It says that no fewer than 789 alleged victims have complained to the archdiocese that they were abused, and that the number of alleged victims probably exceeds 1,000 - not counting all the victims who have never come forward. At least 237 priests in the archdiocese have been accused of sexual crimes against children.
Even more appalling, though, is that so many people in the Boston church hierarchy did so much for so long to protect accused priests - and that most of these leaders have not been held accountable. Cardinal Law finally stepped down last year. But five of his lieutenants, each of whom was singled out for blame in this report, are now heading archdioceses elsewhere, where they are inexplicably entrusted with the safety and well-being of innocent children.
Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly wastes little outrage on individual priests, monstrous though they were. His focus is on the greater crime. What happened to those hundreds of victims was not an accident. It was the predictable result of the church leadership's decision to worry about almost anything except safeguarding kids.
"The widespread abuse of children was due to an institutional acceptance of abuse and a massive and pervasive failure of leadership," his report says. Cardinal Law and his aides knew full well that many children had been raped, sodomized or fondled by priests, and they had a consistent response: Keep it quiet, protect the priest and the church, bury the problem, and let the victims fend for themselves.
Over and over, they declined to report allegations to the people who should have been informed: police and prosecutors. Over and over, they installed accused priests in positions where they could go on abusing. Over and over, they chose secrecy over candor.
The problem goes way beyond Boston. Hundreds of priests across the country reportedly have been removed from their ministries. But accountability has been carefully restricted to the lowest level. Aside from Cardinal Law, no bishop has been forced out merely for failing to protect children from pedophiles, and none has been disciplined by the Vatican. Cardinal Law's lieutenants have not been punished, but promoted.
The bishops seem eager to stop obsessing about the victimization of children. Their annual meeting last year focused almost entirely on the issue. But when they convened this year, they chose to leave it off the agenda, until public pressure forced them to give it a small place on the schedule.
This lapse reflects the persistent tendency of church officials to act as though the greatest evil is not the sexual abuse but the attention it has gotten from critics, many of whom allegedly have sinister motives. "We all know that we are going through a difficult time and that some real problems within the church have been magnified to discredit the moral authority of the church," a papal representative said in a speech at the St. Louis conference.
Some people have done a lot to ruin the moral authority of the Catholic Church. But not the critics.
Steve Chapman is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune, a Tribune Publishing newspaper. His column appears Tuesdays and Fridays in The Sun.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.