'Board Is Deeply Disturbed by the Situation in Boston'

Boston Globe [Boston MA]
February 28, 2004

Yesterday's reports released by the National Review Board included a passage focusing on the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston. Following are excerpts from the report.

In early 2002 news accounts revealed that the Archdiocese of Boston had transferred a serial pedophile, Father John Geoghan, from parish to parish decades earlier, despite numerous complaints that he had molested young children. The Archdiocese first received a complaint that Geoghan had sexually abused a boy in 1979. Additional reports came in to the Archdiocese in the 1980s and 1990s.

In 1989, law enforcement officials asked one of Cardinal Law's auxiliary bishops about reports that Geoghan had molested young boys. The Archdiocese informed the law enforcement authorities that Geoghan was undergoing treatment but did not disclose prior abuse allegations that had been levied against Geoghan. Geoghan continued in various positions in the Archdiocese for another decade until he was charged with sexual molestation of a ten-year-old boy. Geoghan was not laicized until 1998.

Public scrutiny later focused on another priest in the Boston Archdiocese, Father Paul Shanley. As early as 1978, the Vatican had written to Cardinal [Humberto] Medeiros, then-Archbishop of Boston, expressing concern about Shanley's public statements seemingly in support of homosexual conduct with minors.

Shanley was shadowed by allegations of improper sexual conduct for years, with few adverse consequences to him, and was allowed to remain in ministry, albeit often on "sick leave," until 1996.

It also came out that Father Joseph Birmingham, who died in 1989, had been accused of abusing at least fifty boys over a 29-year career in the Boston Archdiocese.

When news accounts brought to light the sexual abuse of minors by these and several other priests in Boston in the 1970s, 1980s, and the early 1990s, and the ineffectual response by archdiocesan officials to that abuse, Cardinal [Bernard] Law, who succeeded Cardinal Medeiros as Archbishop of Boston in 1984, acknowledged that he had transferred priests to new parishes after they had been accused of sexually abusing minors. Cardinal Law publicly apologized and vowed both to implement a zero-tolerance policy and to provide prosecutors with the names of all priests accused of sexually abusing minors. Throughout the year, additional problems beset the Boston Archdiocese. Finally, on December 13, 2002, Cardinal Law resigned as Archbishop of Boston. He remains a member of the College of Cardinals.

The Board conducted numerous interviews with individuals familiar with the response by the Boston Archdiocese to the sexual abuse of minors by priests. Based upon those interviews, as well as contemporaneous documentation and civil deposition transcripts, the Board is deeply disturbed by the situation in Boston. The picture that emerged was that of a diocese with a cadre of predator priests and a hierarchy that simply refused to confront them and stop them.

For example, Bishop John D'Arcy, who was an auxiliary bishop of the Boston Archdiocese until 1985, wrote several letters to Cardinal Law and to other auxiliary bishops voicing concerns about predator priests being allowed to remain in parish ministry. It appears that his concerns were ignored. In a December 1984 letter to Cardinal Law, Bishop D'Arcy specifically expressed alarm about the conduct of Geoghan, stating quite bluntly, "Fr. Geoghan has a history of homosexual involvement with young boys."

Unfortunately, in Boston, Bishop D'Arcy appeared to be a voice in the wilderness, and shortly after he raised troubling questions about a number of priests he was asked to leave Boston and was installed as Bishop of the Diocese of South Bend-Fort Wayne (Indiana). . . .

Although a report issued by the Massachusetts Attorney General in July 2003 concluded that neither Cardinal Law nor any of the diocesan officials who worked with him had violated any laws, it delivered a scathing rebuke of the Cardinal and other diocesan officials. According to the report, hundreds of individuals claimed to have been victimized as minors by priests in the Boston Archdiocese in the second half of the twentieth century. Pointedly, the Attorney General's report noted that its investigation "did produce evidence that the widespread abuse of children was due to an institutional acceptance of abuse and a massive and pervasive failure of leadership." The report also stated that "Cardinal Law personally participated in decisions concerning the final disposition of clergy sexual abuse cases, including decisions on whether to permit accused priests to return to ministry duties."


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