|'My apology... comes
from a grieving heart'
By Cardinal Bernard Law
Reprinted with transcript of follow-up questions by Boston Globe
January 10, 2002
Following is the text of a statement delivered by Cardinal Bernard Law at a news conference yesterday [1/9/02], followed by a transcript of the question and answer session. In some cases the questions were inaudible; in others the Globe paraphrased them.
There is no way for me to describe adequately the evil of such acts. All sexual abuse is morally abhorrent. Sexual abuse of minors is particularly abhorrent. Such abuse by clergy adds to the heinous nature of the act. It affects a victim's relationship to the Church. A child's ability to trust is shattered by such abuse, and self-esteem is damaged.
Today the issue of sexual abuse is a matter of open and public discussion. While this is often painful, it has allowed us to address the issue more directly. Only in this way can all of us be more alert to its dangers, protect potential victims, respond more effectively to those who have been the victims of abuse, and learn how to deal more effectively with those responsible for such abuse.
Here in this archdiocese, I promulgated a policy to deal with sexual abuse of minors by clergy. This went into effect on Jan. 15, 1993. All priest personnel records were reviewed in light of this policy. In those instances in which a charge of abuse had not been processed earlier with the rigor of our present policy, the case was reopened, and the policy followed.
I am aided in such cases by a priest-delegate and by an interdisciplinary review board that examines each case and makes a recommendation to me. This review board includes the mother of a victim, another parent, a clinical social worker, a clinical psychologist, a psychotherapist, a retired justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, a priest, a civil attorney and, usually, a canon lawyer.
While the response of the Church understandably focuses on the removal of the threat of future acts of abuse, it is also concerned with providing psychological and spiritual counsel to victims as well as assistance to parishes coping with such incidents. Victims who come forward are offered confidential psychological counseling and spiritual support. It is my desire that the Church be present in whatever way possible to all those who have suffered such abuse.
While our policy has been effective, we continue to refine our procedures. Since our knowledge and experience in dealing with such cases have evolved both within the Church and society as a whole, I want to be certain that our policy is as effective as it might be. In August, I directed that our policy be reviewed. In September, a panel of persons with special expertise began the review process. Except for one priest, this panel consists of lay men and women. The work of this group has nearly been completed. I anticipate that the revised policy will be promulgated and made available within the next three to four weeks.
I wish we had had such a policy 50 years ago, or when I first came here as archbishop. Cases were handled then in a manner that would not be acceptable according to our present policy. I know of nothing that has caused me greater pain than the recognition of that fact.
I am announcing today a new archdiocesan policy that will mandate all clergy, employees, and volunteers to report any allegations of abuse against a minor, following the procedures set forth in the statutes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In particular, this mandated reporting would include any knowledge of abuse learned by a priest outside of the sacrament of penance or through spiritual counseling. In addition, a number of archdiocesan agencies are in the process of developing and implementing a comprehensive child protection program, Keeping Children Safe. These additions to our present policy will underscore our archdiocesan commitment to a zero tolerance policy of abuse of minors by clergy.
The many acts that have been alleged against John Geoghan constitute a heart-rending pattern. These acts have been reported in some detail in recent media stories. The horror of these acts speaks for itself.
However much I regret having assigned him, it is important to recall that John Geoghan was never assigned by me to a parish without psychiatric or medical assessments indicating that such assignments were appropriate. It is also important to state that it was I who removed him from parish ministry, that I then placed him on retirement, and that I finally asked the Holy See to dismiss him from the priesthood without possibility of appeal, even though he had not requested laicization. This extraordinary act of the Holy See went beyond the usual procedures for the laicization of priests.
That some should criticize my earlier decisions I can easily understand. Before God, however, it was not then, nor is it my intent now, to protect a priest accused of misconduct against minors at the expense of those whom he is ordained to serve.
Judgments were made regarding the assignment of John Geoghan which, in retrospect, were tragically incorrect. These judgments were, however, made in good faith and in reliance upon psychiatric assessments and medical opinions that such assignments were safe and reasonable.
With all my heart, I wish to apologize once again for the harm done to the victims of sexual abuse by priests. I do so in my own name, but also in the name of my brother priests. These days are particularly painful for the victims of John Geoghan. My apology to them and their families, and particularly to those who were abused in assignments which I made, comes from a grieving heart. I am indeed profoundly sorry.
The trust that was broken in the lives of those suffering the effects of abuse is a trust which was built upon the selfless lives of thousands of priests who have served faithfully and well in this archdiocese throughout its history. One of the sad consequences of these instances of abuse, a consequence which pales in comparison to the harm done to these most innocent of victims, is that they have placed under a cloud of suspicion the faithful priests who serve the mission of the Church with integrity.
I can only hope that victims and their families can take some heart from the fact that not only the Church but society as a whole are responding more effectively to this overwhelming tragedy.
For the Archdiocese of Boston, I pledge a policy of zero tolerance for such behavior. Any priest known to have sexually abused a minor simply will not function as a priest in any way in this archdiocese.
Please pray for all those who have been victimized as minors by clergy, as well as for their families. Pray that those responsible may come to conversion of heart and self-awareness. Pray for the hundreds of faithful priests of this archdiocese who bear with me the burden of a few.
Before God, we are trying to do the best we can. In your kindness, pray also for me.
Question and answer session
A. That's correct. The mandated reporting that is being put in place is that mandated reporting in accordance with the statutes of the Commonwealth. And it touches not only priests, as I mentioned, but it touches all church personnel.
Q. In the spirit of your remarks today, will you also say the Church will no longer take steps legally to try to keep secret documents which shed light on what the Church will do in these cases, such as the Geoghan case and other types of these cases?
A. I believe the documents are now available, are they not?
Q. In the Geoghan case, yes, but there are other cases pending, and I'm wondering if the archdiocese will still continue to seek secrecy orders, or would you drop your opposition [to making those documents public]?
A. You know, I have to tell you, Mr. Robinson, my focus has been on preparing this statement and this case, and I need to just leave it at that. I need to discuss the implications of that question further.
Q. It's fairly widely acknowledged in the psychiatric community that pedophilia is incurable. I'm curious what kind of guidance you had regarding ex-Father Geoghan in terms of his psychiatric care and whether you now feel that was trustworthy advice.
A. Well, you know, Miss Eagan, the difficulty is to try to put oneself back, in my case to put myself back, in 1984 when I got here, and to do so with the knowledge I have in 2002. I have been concerned about this issue and that is why I insisted on psychiatric evaluation. But I had confidence, and would have no reason not to have had confidence, in those whose judgment I sought, psychiatrically and medically. I'm no psychiatrist, but given the experience that I have had in these ensuing years and with whatever reading I have done, I have come to the conclusion that no matter what anybody says, that someone who is guilty of this kind of abuse simply cannot be placed in that position of trust, which is the position of the priest. And whatever counsel might be given, that is a policy. I wish that that had been the policy then, and it wasn't. It's not true to say that nothing was done; something was done. And it would have been done differently had we been doing it the way we do now.
Q. When you created a new policy in 1993, and were doing a review of personnel records, of priests' records, was there any - what was the result of that review?
A. Well, I can't give it to you in numbers, not because I'm trying to hide the numbers, but because I don't have them in my head. But I can tell you that as we reviewed those cases - and they were all of the personnel files that we had of any priest living - we did find there were instances where the way the case had been handled had not been handled in the rigor of the policy, and those cases were reopened. And there were instances where people, because of what was discovered, simply were no longer in the ministry, in ministry.
Q. You said that the policy enunciated today would be [inaudible]. Is there any retroactivity, and are you prepared to say you have people right now that you have identified as [inaudible].
A. Well, first of all there is nobody, nobody, in an assignment in this archdiocese now, no priest in an assignment in this archdiocese now, that I'm aware of, who is guilty of sexually abusing a minor. So it's not a matter, then, of looking at people who we know have abused minors and applying a new policy that might then say that they can no longer serve. There is no one now serving. If there is, the allegation has not come forward to me.
A. You mean in the mandating? I don't know that the mandating - I think the mandating is of people who come forward today, of knowledge that comes from this point forward. As I understand it, I think that's the intent of the law.
A. What I would hope is that my words would be heard and taken to heart, and that there would be understanding with regard to the wisdom of this policy of mandating reporting, and that there would be an understandable support and involvement in this educational effort which is going to unfold, because I think that's very important. We want to know, and one of the ways we're going to know, if there are cases out there that we're not aware of, is through this heightened awareness, and this educational program will help us with that. And I would hope for support on that.
Q. You're obviously not the pope ...
A. Oh, I'm not. Bad enough being the archbishop of Boston.
Q. [Questioner asks whether recent Vatican announcement that cases of clergy abuse would be heard by secret tribunal is at odds with open policy Law announced.]
A. Let me address that first generally and then give you a reference for more information that I think he would be able to give you more competently than I. But from what I understand of those policies, I see them as a positive step. And I have been very hopeful that the Holy See would come out with a policy that would be more effective in dealing with these cases. And I feel certain that the development of this policy is, in no small measure, due to the kind of painful experience that we have had here in the United States and our effort to bring back to the benefit of the Holy See - that this is a pastoral problem that we have to act upon in a new and decisive way. So my colleagues, in reviewing those guidelines, see them as a positive step and don't see them as in any way negatively impacting or affecting what we're doing here. I would say that the procedures, canonical procedure, normally has with it a certain element of confidentiality and that confidentiality should not be seen as a drawback to the policy. But I'd like to suggest that any of you who want to discuss that in further detail might find it helpful to give a call to Monsignor Michael Foster, who is archdiocesan judicial vicar. He's a canonist and he can discuss with really greater precision than I the canonical implications. But I can tell you globally that I am heartened by the existence of that policy, and I do not see it in any way a threat to what is the direction in which we're going.
A. I would hope that the record of then to now might give some confidence. Not simply the fact of the policy, but the fact that the policy was implemented, the fact that there is a very strong and competent review board, the fact that we have reviewed the policy again, the fact that there is no priest in this archdiocese in an assignment in this archdiocese - not only a parish assignment but an assignment in this archdiocese - who we know to have been guilty of child abuse. There is none. Now, I have said, and I don't know how else to say it, that judgments were made which, in retrospect, were tragically incorrect, and there is no effort on my part to gloss over that. But I have to say in the interest of the truth, which I think serves us all in these difficult cases, that the judgments were made in good faith, and there was reliance on assessments which indicated that these assignments were safe and reasonable. If I got such an assessment now, I would not follow it.
Q. [Questioner asked for estimate of number of priests who have abused children.]
A. I cannot estimate a number, but I can tell you that I would agree with your newspaper's editorial assessment this morning of a `small minority' of priests. But I must say one is sufficiently painful and one act of such abuse is sufficiently painful. To be sure, when it's compounded it just becomes more weighty as a tragedy, but the fact is that one act of abuse of a minor by a priest is one too many.
I am sending this statement by fax to all of the priests in the archdiocese, and I'm asking them to use it in whatever [way] they deem appropriate in addressing this matter with the faithful. This statement has been telecast by at least Boston Catholic Television in its entirety and will be available if others would use it. The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, will print this statement in its entirety. I'm sending it to the president of the Conference of Bishops. I'm sending it to the Nuncio; I'm sending it to the bishops of the province. I'm sending it to my brother cardinals. I think, as painful as this is, perhaps all of this can help generally.
Q. [Questioner asks if parishioner donations have been used for civil settlements.]
A. No. As a matter of fact, none of it is. Nor can it be used for litigation purposes. And the same is true of the Cardinal's Appeal, which is for the diocese what the Sunday collection is to the parishes - it's what makes it possible for us to operate.
Q. [Questioner asks if church has seen a decline in fund-raising due to the Geoghan case.]
A. Well, we haven't up till now. We've actually found that the Promise for Tomorrow campaign, for this type of campaign, has set already all sorts of records, and there's been a tremendous response on the part of the faithful in the parishes. We hope that continues.
Q. [Questioner asks why Law reassigned Geoghan several times, despite medical clearances, knowing his repeated history of sexual abuse.]
A. I didn't have the knowledge, the experience with this issue, the wisdom of time that I have now. Should I have had? You're free to make that judgment if you wish. But in fact I didn't. All I can tell you is that I was acting in a way that appeared to me at the time to have reason.
Q. [Questioner asks if Law was aware before he reassigned Geoghan that Geoghan had sexually abused children.]
A. I was aware that there had been prior instances, because I had gotten evaluations prior to that, yes. Yes.
A. No, certainly not that it goes through the court. As a matter of fact, our policy, as one can imagine, the requirements of our policy, as it is now, can lead to an action and a decision which might be more severe than the way in which the same allegation may be handled by the government.
A. Well, there you have the seal of confession, and there's no way that that can be attacked. But aside from, and the statutes of the Commonwealth allow for that, aside from that rather restrictive case and also that case of spiritual counsel, the priest would be bound to report cases made known to him.
A. Well, first of all let me say that I have confidence in the archdiocesan counsel as a man of integrity and as a man of truth, and I have confidence in those associated with them. If I did not have confidence in them, they would not represent us. As far as the desire of the church to assist in providing psychological counseling and spiritual counseling to those who come forward to us, that offer is there. And if people choose to come to us in a litigious context, then we respect their choice to do that. But we still look forward, and I look forward, to a reasonable agreement here on all outstanding cases, so that without anything standing in between the church's relationship, pastoral relationship, can be expended in a more effective way. I want that very, very much, and I hope and pray and urge that we are able to come to an agreeable, to an adequate and just agreement on these cases that are outstanding.
Q. [Questioner asks if Geoghan allegations have damaged the archdiocese.]
A. I don't know. That it has done damage I have no doubt. It's done damage to me personally. It's done enormous damage to victims, to their families, and yet I think there is also a great reservoir of trust and confidence and a recognition that none of us, except the pope in very, very limited circumstances, is infallible. And, as I have indicated already, I acknowledge and apologize not only for the harm done, but I acknowledge also that there were judgments made which were tragically incorrect and I think people will hear that. Some may not. I can't say beyond that.
A. The one light that I see in all of this, frankly, with all of the pain that this involves, is that we are where we are in dealing with something that's probably been there much longer than any of us suspected, and we're dealing with it in a much more responsible way. I'm confident that what we put in place in '93 was sound and appropriate. I reviewed that policy in '95. Those that reviewed it said that it didn't need change. We've reviewed it again, and we're making some changes. And I'm certain that years from now that policy will be reviewed yet again, and it will be improved. And with each one of those improvements my hope is that we're dealing with the issue in a more appropriate way, in a fuller way, in an adequate way. And that's the good that I see in all of this, and it's a very significant good, and I'm grateful for that. I'm so grateful to God that I'm standing here now, and I'm not where I was in 1984 in dealing with these cases.
A. Well, you know, we were not doing nothing. We were acting. We were making decisions, we were not putting something under the rug. We were trying to deal in an adequate way with a very painful problem. I can now see and acknowledge, and our policy has acknowledged for some years, that the way we did it was not an adequate way, given the problem. We were learning, and I would presume that there's a lot more learning that all of us have to do in this area. I don't think we've stopped learning. But we've learned enough to know that the way we did it was not adequate, and we've changed that.
A. Well, I'm sure that we will be providing rather ample guidelines for how this is to be done, and we will have, if we do it the way we routinely do things of this kind, we'll be having some sort of workshops with people so that they will be aware of that. We did a similar thing when we instituted the CORI reporting for all church personnel and had church workshops for that.
A. That's correct. That's as I understand it.
A. Is it possible that we know of people who are - yes, that would probably be true.
A. I think it's important to have mandated reporting, and I have asked that we follow the statute of mandated reporting as it has been passed by the Commonwealth. And I think that that's appropriate and that's good.
A. That's correct, that's correct. I think that's what the law implies.
A. Yes, we have. Yes.
A. No, as I responded to Miss Eagan earlier, we, looking at those guidelines, do not see that there's any conflict with what we are doing. But I would suggest that you might want to talk to Monsignor Foster, who's our vicar for judicial affairs. And I'll take one last question.
A. You know, I can't tell you with detail about the policies of other dioceses. I think that we have one of the strongest policies in the country, but I would really hope not - I would hope we'd be where everybody else is. But I'm not certain of that. I haven't checked that out. Thank you all very much.
Globe correspondent Lauren Rouleau assisted in the preparation of this
Original material copyright © BishopAccountability.org 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.