|Archdiocese Will Allow US to Review Data on Chaplains
By Michael Paulson and Shelley Murphy
November 19, 2005
The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, in an effort to avoid a federal indictment, has reached an unprecedented agreement with the US government that will require intensive scrutiny of local priests who seek to work as federal chaplains and will obligate the archdiocese to repeatedly assess the effectiveness of its child- protection programs.
The agreement, the first in the nation between a Catholic diocese and a federal prosecutor, settles an allegation by US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan that in 1999 the administration of Cardinal Bernard F. Law misled the federal government about the background of a priest of the archdiocese who had been hired as a military chaplain. The federal government says the priest was an accused child abuser; the archdiocese disputes that description.
The decision by both sides to settle the case spares the scandal-wracked Catholic Church from the public-relations damage of a federal criminal indictment against a Catholic diocese.
But the settlement marks a significant concession by the church, which is protected by the US Constitution from most forms of government oversight, in agreeing to give federal officials a say in how the archdiocese trains its employees and in requiring the arch diocese to report publicly assessments of its programs.
"I think we've achieved a much greater good by entering into an agreement that addresses some of the misconduct from the past and will prevent children from being victimized in the future," Sullivan said in an interview yesterday. "No matter what we do in terms of prosecutions, we'll never be able to make whole those people who have been victimized by priests. But, it's really their courage that got us to the point where we're at."
The archdiocese said it was pleased to have avoided criminal or civil charges. "The archdiocese has consistently maintained that there was no basis for a criminal prosecution," the archdiocese said in a statement. "By reaching a resolution and avoiding a prolonged and costly dispute, we can devote our energies and resources toward the advancement of our goal of protecting children and fulfilling the church's mission in this arch diocese."
The federal investigation stemmed from the church's handling of the case of the Rev. William J. Scanlan, an archdiocesan priest who went on to serve as a military chaplain. His secret archdiocesan personnel file included a note with an anonymous allegation that the priest had "fooled around with kids" while working at a home for troubled adolescent boys and an evaluation from an intern at a psychiatric facility who said Scanlan had become infatuated with a boy at the home.
Sullivan said that his investigation, which began in 2004, is complete and that he does not intend to indict Law or Bishop William F. Murphy.
"Unless there is a breach of this agreement, this investigation is concluded, and we're not anticipating bringing any charges," he said.
"We did not have any evidence to indicate Cardinal Law had committed any crime during the period in which we were investigating," Sullivan said. "He was obviously the leader of the arch diocese, and any leader has to take responsibility for the conduct of the organization."
Neither lawyers for Law and Murphy nor a spokesman for Murphy returned phone calls and e-mails seeking comment.
Law was the archbishop of Boston from 1984 until he resigned in 2002 over criticism of his failure to remove abusive priests from ministry; he was later appointed by Pope John Paul II to oversee a prominent basilica, St. Mary Major, in Rome.
Murphy was Law's top aide and signed the document that was part of a background investigation conducted by the government after Scanlan was hired as chaplain; in 2001, Murphy was named by the pope to oversee the diocese of Rockville Center, in Long Island, N.Y.
Both Law and Murphy testified last year before a federal grand jury investigating the case. Bishop John B. McCormack of New Hampshire, a former top official of the Boston Arch diocese, testified as a witness, but was never a target of the investigation, according to his lawyer, Joseph L. Doherty.
Under the agreement, the archdiocese promised to provide detailed background on all priests who currently serve or who in the future apply to serve as chaplains in the military, in the federal prison system, or in Veterans Affairs facilities. The arch diocese has 15 priests serving with the active military, and 22 authorized by the church to serve as chaplains with the reserves or National Guard.
The archdiocese also agreed to report any suspected violations of federal child abuse and child exploitation laws to federal authorities. That requirement is in addition to the archdiocese's obligation, imposed by the Legislature since the abuse crisis, to report suspected child abuse to state authorities.
The federal government will have the right to review and approve the archdiocese's proposed program for training employees to report federal crimes, according to the agreement.
In addition, the archdiocese agreed to continue to audit parishes and schools for implementation of child protection programs and to finance a committee of specialists to study the effectiveness of child protection programs. The archdiocese will be required to report publicly on its efforts to improve child protection policies every six months for three years, starting in May.
The arch diocese agreed to a two-year waiver of the statute of limitations; if the church does not implement the agreement within that period, the federal government can then prosecute the case.
Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who was not an official of the arch diocese at the time of the alleged crime, carefully considered church- state implications of the agreement before signing it, according to lawyer Michael K. Fee, who represented the archdiocese. O'Malley came to the conclusion that the agreement puts in writing practices underway at the arch diocese or practices that he thinks are desirable for the church's health.
"We do not have in this agreement any intrusion into the operations of the archdiocese or the decision- making of the arch bishop, and we really believe there is not a constitutional violation or an intrusion into the sovereignty of the archbishop," said Fee. "The agreement, in large part, continues the implementation of policies to which the archdiocese is already committed."
Sullivan said the federal government was also cautious about the constitutional implications of the agreement. "We're not going to monitor a religious institution," he said. "We're going to ensure that they're in compliance with regard to the agreement."
A former state prosecutor who teaches criminal law at Boston College said the archdiocese benefits by avoiding an indictment and trial, even if the church believes it could have won in court.
"The church very much wants to put this whole abuse incident behind it," said R. Michael Cassidy, associate professor of law at BC. "It is important for the church's fund-raising and its membership, and had there been protracted litigation for two years, that would be two more years that the Archdiocese of Boston could not begin to heal from this."
But some victim advocates were disappointed that Sullivan did not pursue what would have been the first federal case stemming from the abuse scandal.
"Federal prosecution is the one thing that hasn't been tried, and deals like this [between dioceses and other prosecutors] don't seem to have deterred the criminal behavior within the church hierarchy," said David Clohessy of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "But it is encouraging to finally see some federal intervention."
Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who has represented multiple abuse victims, said Sullivan should have insisted on greater independence for people who would be appointed, under the agreement, to audit the church's child protection programs.
In a list of allegations released yesterday, Sullivan said that in 1999 a bishop had "falsely certified" to the federal government, which was conducting a routine background check on Scanlan after he had been hired as chaplain, that the archdiocese had no adverse information about the priest. Sullivan did not name the bishop, but the Globe has previously identified him as Murphy, based on review of the document.
Sullivan alleged that the archdiocese violated a law that prohibits making false statements in matters over which the federal government has jurisdiction.
The archdiocese disputes the allegations made by Sullivan, pointing out that the information in the file was anonymous, second hand, and nonspecific.
"The archdiocese does not believe that any federal crime was committed in connection with the posting of this priest to service in the Veterans Affairs chaplaincy," Fee said. "At the time this priest entered federal service, not a single person had come forward and complained that they had been abused by the priest."
Scanlan was accused in 2000 of having abused a young woman years earlier; an archdiocesan review board found the allegation to be unsubstantiated. Scanlan is now retired and unassigned; he could not be located for comment yesterday.
Any original material on these pages is copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.
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