The Price of Healing

The Day [Boston MA]
September 12, 2003

There's a price to be paid for healing, and this week in the Archdiocese of Boston, that amounts to $85 million the settlement in the worst sexual-abuse scandal ever to beset the Roman Catholic Church. When this is added to other sexual-abuse settlements in the last 10 years, the church in Boston will have spent more than $112 million compensating victims of clergy abuse.

For the victims, money will never truly take away what they have suffered at the hands of at least 237 priests and 13 other church employees. At least 789 minors over six decades were sexually molested, according to a July report of Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly.

The report details a system put in place by Cardinal Bernard Law that for years meticulously catalogued incidents of sexual abuse by priests and kept him fully informed. But he and his staff, several of whom are now bishops elsewhere, used the information to protect priests and keep the incidents secret. The archdiocese remained at best indifferent and at worst accusatory towards victims of abuse. Time after time, when faced with a choice of protecting the church's reputation or protecting victims, Archbishop Law, his predecessors and bishops who served him, chose secrecy. They showed far more compassion toward clergy who were rapists than the children who were abused.

Attorney Gen. Reilly's report showed that only one member of Archbishop Law's staff, a nun, Sister Catherine Mulkerrin, fought for more openness and asked in 1993 that when priests were accused, the diocese should inform the parish to encourage other victims to come forward. This suggestion, and other suggestions she made, were ignored.

The result is that the faithful in Boston have had their confidence in the church shaken to the core. It is for the new archbishop, Rev. Sean P. O'Malley, to try to heal them. This settlement, which Archbishop O'Malley sought aggressively, is a good first step.

But while Boston and other dioceses have instituted reforms that will help head off more such scandals, they still need to go further. Mr. Reilly's report makes numerous recommendations specific to the Boston archdiocese, but they are relevant for any diocese serious about attacking the root of this problem. Among them are recommendations for dioceses to establish case review boards that are totally independent of bishops, a rejection of secrecy, mandatory steps to be followed for investigations and disciplinary actions to be taken against employees who don't report sexual abuse.

When dioceses nationwide adopt such steps, Catholics will know that their Church is ready to put this scandal behind it and do what's right.


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