Abuse Reports Hidden by Law Regime

By Eric Convey and Tom Mashberg
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
August 12, 2003

Top aides to Bernard Cardinal Law compiled detailed annual reports on the extent and cost of clergy sexual abuse starting in the mid-1990s, and the Archdiocese of Boston went to great lengths to shroud the data in secrecy, records made available yesterday reveal.

Suggested by rules embraced by the church in 1994, the reports are a detailed roadmap of a crisis Law insisted under oath last year was only vaguely familiar to him.

The reports summarize efforts to identify predatory clergy, treat the priests and their victims, compensate accusers, and track "unmet needs and trends" in the crisis.

"The material . . . was collected with the utmost attention to confidentiality," the first report, for the period July 1, 1994, to June 30, 1995, states. "The total report is not stored in any word processors."

The reports - first alluded to in Attorney General Tom Reilly's July 23 report on the church scandal - show in stark clarity the degree to which clergy sexual abuse was known to a handful of clerics and others at the chancery.

Among the striking details:

In 1998, the archdiocese paid out more than $1 million of its own money to settle molestation cases that were not covered by insurance. In other years, the church's out-of-pocket costs ran into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Treating priests and victims also was costly, sometimes surpassing $300,000 in one year.

For three years, from 1994 to 1997, the church struggled to find a safe location to house its troubled priests, settling finally in 1997 on Georgetown's Baldpate Hospital.

Confronted with the issue of how to encourage recalcitrant problem priests to agree to laicization - the formal term for removing someone from the priesthood - a committee dealing with the abuse issue recommended the equivalent of buyouts.

"Commonly referred to as a `golden handshake' or `parachute,' this option might be a useful tool to bring closure to some situations that may linger for some time to come," says the report for the 12 months ending June 30, 1996.

Between 1994 and 1998 the church held 17 meetings with the psychiatric staff of Massachusetts General Hospital chaired by Dr. Ned Cassem, a Jesuit priest who was department head. In a May deposition, Cassem did not mention the meetings and said material church officials asked him to review on alleged abusers failed to convey the depth of the problem.

So extensive was the archdiocese's grasp of the abuse problem during Law's last decade, the reports show, that the church's own clergy abuse task force was sought out for consultation by the dioceses of Burlington, Vt., and Providence, and by religious orders.

The documents are sure to revive questions about Law's candor under oath during multiple depositions in civil suits last year.

For example, Law said during a deposition released on Nov. 19 that while some priests posed a "major problem . . . I was not facing a major problem with the priesthood."

Law said during the November 2002 deposition that many matters regarding clergy abuse were handled by subordinates. He said "delegation" was a management tool.

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who deposed Law last year, said: "I believe Cardinal Law in his deposition was careful, calculated and evasive in what he said - as far as how severe the problem truly was within the Archdiocese of Boston."

Law's name appears nowhere on the reports, which seem initially to have been assembled by the Rev. Brian Flatley, a personnel official.

But rules requiring the reports, promulgated by the U.S. Conference of Bishops, say diocesan bishops are responsible for them.

The reports carefully track the amount of money spent by the church on the crisis. Most costly to the archdiocese were settlements for victims, which between 1995 and 2000 totaled more than $21 million for 150 complainants.

About $13 million was recovered from insurers, the reports indicate.

The average settlement per victim rose from $53,000 in 1995 and 1996 to a high of $227,500 in 1998, before falling to $125,800 in 2000.

The 54 pages, covering 1994 through 2000, were filed in Suffolk Superior Court by the Greenberg Traurig law firm in the case of Gregory Ford of Newton versus Law and the archdiocese. Ford is suing for alleged abuse by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley. His lawsuit is one of a handful that were not halted by the $55 million settlement offer the archdiocese made on Friday.

Carmen L. Durso, a member of the five-lawyer steering panel for those talks, said of the reports, "And this from an orgnization that swears it isn't practicing secrecy?"

Susan Gallagher, a victims' rights advocate, said of the reports last night: "When people intentionally fail to keep documents on word processors, it's more evidence of a concerted conspiracy to conceal crimes against children."


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