Federal Prosecutor in Boston Considering Charges against Church Officials

The Associated Press, carried in Providence Journal [Boston MA]
Downloaded August 27, 2003

BOSTON (AP) - The chief federal prosecutor in Boston said Tuesday he is weighing whether to bring charges against officials of the Boston Archdiocese for covering up the sexual abuse of children for more than 60 years.

Victims of child-molesting priests had asked U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan last month to prosecute the church under federal law after the Massachusetts attorney general concluded that he was unable to bring state charges.

"We're just at the very preliminary stages," Sullivan told The Associated Press. "Obviously, at some point in time we'll let people know if there is any ability to move forward. At this point it's just too premature."

Last month, Attorney General Thomas Reilly released a report detailing what he described as a "massive, inexcusable failure" by church officials to protect children and end abuse. The report said that more than 1,000 people were likely abused by 237 priests since 1940.

But Reilly concluded that he could not bring charges because state laws were too weak in the past for him to bring charges now. After the scandal broke in early 2002, state lawmakers strengthened child protection laws, though not as much as some victim's advocates would like.

Reilly's decision angered victims, who said the church should be held accountable. Late last month, some held a press conference outside Sullivan's offices, asking that he prosecute the church under federal anti-racketeering laws.

Sullivan, who has received several letters from victims and their supporters, said it's too early to speculate about the outcome of the review.

"I think it would be premature and completely speculative for me to even go down a particular path with regard to a potential federal prosecution. We're not even there yet," he said.

William Gately of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that even if Sullivan ultimately decides not to bring charges, what is most important to him is knowing that every option had been pursued.

"It's a moral imperative that we do everything we can to find out if there is a law that has been broken that could lead to a prosecution or an indictment," he said.

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