Grand Jury Heard Law, Two Bishops
Transfer of Priest under Scrutiny
By Michael Rezendes and Shelley Murphy
June 17, 2004
Cardinal Bernard F. Law and at least two former high-ranking bishops of the Boston Archdiocese have testified before a federal grand jury investigating the case of a Boston-area priest who was transferred to a California Veterans Affairs medical facility despite notations in church records of possible sexual misconduct.
Several sources familiar with the proceedings say the grand jury is focusing on church officials who approved the priest's transfer, not on any allegations against the priest. Law, who stepped down as Boston's archbishop in 2002 after apologizing for his role in the clergy abuse scandal, testified for three hours June 8. Two additional bishops, including John B. McCormack, head of the Manchester, N.H., diocese, testified more than a month ago.
The case before the grand jury concerns the Rev. William J. Scanlan, 58, a onetime Stoughton priest who moved to California in 1998 to take an assignment as a military chaplain at a VA hospital in Palo Alto. Church records released under a court order two years ago contain a 1987 unsigned note that said Scanlan "fools around with kids." And a 1993 note expressed concern about "possible over-involvement with boys."
In addition, the records contain a federal "investigative request for employment data" signed by Bishop William F. Murphy, who today leads the Rockville Centre diocese on Long Island. Murphy signed the document as vicar general for the Boston archdiocese on May 12, 1999, attesting that there was no "adverse information" about Scanlan's employment, including questions about Scanlan's "mental or emotional stability."
But an additional church document shows that in 1986 Scanlan referred himself to the House of Affirmation, a Whitinsville facility for troubled priests that was subsequently closed, because of "depression and anxiety." The church document also says Scanlan experienced conflict "related to sexual thoughts and fantasies, which make him very uncomfortable."
Although the investigative report was signed by Murphy, church documents show it was completed by the Rev. Richard Fitzgerald, the clergy personnel director.
Sources say the grand jury is concerned with statements that church officials made to military officials when Scanlan was named a chaplain, not Scanlan's actions. Because the statements made by church officials paved the way for Scanlan's employment in a federal medical facility, the US attorney's office could have jurisdiction in the case.
Scanlan would not consent to an interview yesterday, but the Rev. Robert J. Carr, a close friend of Scanlan, after conferring with him, told the Globe that Scanlan testified before the federal grand jury in late March or early April, an appearance that lasted about three hours. Carr said he accompanied Scanlan to the federal courthouse in Boston but was not allowed into the grand jury room.
Scanlan, who is retired and living in Rhode Island, could not be reached for comment.
Church records released last year show that church officials approved Scanlan's transfer to a military chaplaincy in 1998. In a November 1998 letter to Scanlan referring to his move to chaplain work, Law said, "I have every confidence that [you] will render fine priestly service for the people who come under your care and that you will represent the presbyterate of the Archdiocese of Boston well."
The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, the archdiocesan spokesman, said he could not comment on the grand jury investigation. Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., of the law firm Ropes & Gray, who represents the archdiocese -- but not any of the former bishops -- said he could not comment on whether the archdiocese has provided documents to the US attorney's office.
J. Owen Todd, Law's personal attorney, did not return telephone calls from the Globe yesterday.
Last week's testimony was not Law's first appearance before a grand jury. In 2002 and 2003, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly oversaw a state grand jury investigation into the clergy sex abuse scandal. Reilly filed no criminal charges, though he made it clear he would have done so if there were state laws allowing him to prosecute high-ranking church officials.
And church records show that Scanlan is not the only priest approved by Law and his subordinates for transfer to a military chaplaincy, despite notations in records suggesting sexual misconduct. In 1988, Law approved the Rev. Thomas Forry for a military chaplaincy despite complaints that Forry had beaten his housekeeper and maintained a long-running sexual affair with a married woman, whose son he allegedly molested.
At the request of federal prosecutors, arrangements were made for Law to appear before the federal grand jury June 8. A federal agent drove Law and his lawyer into a private underground garage at the federal courthouse, where they were met by deputy marshals and escorted to an elevator that took them to the 10th floor, where grand juries convene. The area is off-limits to the public.
Martin G. Weinberg, a Boston criminal defense lawyer, said he believes the grand jury proceeding "is not just an informational inquiry," adding that US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan "is not going to take a shot at the church without having some basis. He's not going to be pursuing some fantasy."
Sullivan, through a spokeswoman, declined to comment yesterday.
Several prominent criminal defense lawyers -- without specific knowledge of the grand jury investigation -- said there are several federal crimes that could be considered against church officials for its mishandling of abuse cases, including racketeering, obstruction of justice, making false statements, mail fraud, transporting minors across state lines to sexually assault them, and failing to report a felony.
But the attorneys also said that the biggest challenge for federal prosecutors could be the statute of limitations, which is five years for most federal crimes.
Carr, Scanlan's friend, said that Scanlan believes federal prosecutors may be pursuing a federal racketeering case against the church. Under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), prosecutors must charge members of a racketeering enterprise with at least one crime that occurred within the past five years, but prosecutors may then reach back 10 years from the date of that crime to make an additional charge, and 10 years preceding any new crime they may find. "The classic RICO case is the subversion of a legitimate business, for instance a labor union, a business, even a political entity," said Weinberg, adding the Catholic Church could be the target of a racketeering case. "The Catholic Church is a legitimate entity and clearly there were participants in that entity who were subverting its valid purposes and committing and concealing crimes," Weinberg said.
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