Sex Abusers Escape Prosecution

Hartford Courant [Hartford CT]
July 29, 2003

What could be more disappointing than this: Despite a cover-up of sexual abuse of children by scores of priests, bishops and a cardinal in the Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese, those responsible will not face criminal charges.

After a grand jury investigation, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly concluded that 237 priests and 13 other church employees sexually assaulted at least 789 youths over six decades. All the while, church leaders, including Cardinal Bernard F. Law, shielded alleged abusers, sometimes giving them new assignments where the assaults often continued.

Mr. Reilly expressed frustration that he did not have enough evidence to charge Cardinal Law and his top bishops with conspiracy, perjury or obstruction of justice, or with being accessories. He also concluded he could not prove criminal intent.

However, Mr. Reilly cited "overwhelming evidence" that Cardinal Law and his senior managers had "actual knowledge" that "substantial numbers of children" had been abused by "substantial numbers" of priests. Only in two extreme cases did church officials notify law-enforcement authorities.

At the time, clergy members were not required by state law to report allegations of sexual abuse.

To his shame, Cardinal Law, who resigned in December, refused to fully cooperate with the state's investigation, according to Mr. Reilly. That prompted the attorney general to convene a grand jury.

Connecticut prosecutors ought to follow Mr. Reilly's lead and conduct a similar review of sexual abuse cases involving priests. One useful purpose would be to determine if new laws are needed to punish those who protect abusers.

Two years ago the Bridgeport Diocese agreed to pay $12 million to men who had been sexually assaulted by priests when the accusers were youths. But the diocese has fought news media attempts to gain access to the court files in the case. Secrecy remains ingrained in the church hierarchy as the driving ethic.

Until the Catholic Church in Massachusetts, Connecticut and elsewhere fully acknowledges its unholy role in protecting priests accused of decades of horrendous abuse, its protestations that it has taken steps to prevent a recurrence will lack credibility.


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