CT’s new bishop once served as spokesman for disgraced Boston Cardinal Bernard Law

Hartford Courant [Hartford CT]

July 6, 2023

By Ed Stannard

Coadjutor Archbishop Christopher Coyne, named to succeed Hartford Archbishop Leonard Blair, once served as spokesman for Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston, the most well-known cleric involved in the Roman Catholic Church’s sexual abuse scandals.

Coyne later was named bishop of the Diocese of Burlington, Vermont, in 2014.

Coyne was named coadjutor archbishop of Hartford on June 25, meaning he will automatically succeed Blair when Blair retires next year. According to his curriculum vitae, which has been removed from the Diocese of Burlington’s website, Coyne served as secretary for communications and principal spokesman of the Archdiocese of Boston from 2002 to 2005.

Since his Hartford appointment, his handling of abuse cases has come under criticism.

According to a spokeswoman for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, Coyne could have been more transparent about priests who had been accused of sexual abuse in Vermont.

“…His Burlington list of abusers was incomplete,” Melanie Sakoda, survivor support coordinator for SNAP, alleged.

“You would think, after working for Cardinal Law … during the height of the Boston Archdiocese scandal, that he would have learned something,” she said. “Transparency is a way to keep parishioners. It’s the way to help survivors and the family members of victims, and apparently he didn’t.”

An Archdiocese of Hartford spokesman did not respond to a request for comment from Coyne.

Sakoda alleged Coyne’s list does not match the one published by BishopAccountability.org, established in 2003 to record all those credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

Sakoda said Coyne is not alone in transparency about the priests in his diocese who were accused of sexual abuse. Some dioceses have no list at all.

Also, some lists record accusations made in a particular diocese and not in others where the priest had served. There is no central list by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which issued the Dallas Charter to protect Catholics from abuse in 2002.

“To me it’s not surprising,” Sakoda said. “I think you don’t get to be an archbishop in the Catholic Church without conforming to the party line and that, basically, is that the reputation of the church is what’s to be protected, not the children and other people who walked through the doors.”

Coyne was named auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis in 2011, before becoming bishop of Burlington in 2014. 

“I think that if they would really, truly move to be open and transparent and to really take the attitude, it’s not about the buildings, the churches, the money, the priests. It’s about the community of believers. That’s what they need to protect,” Sakoda said.

“And that doesn’t seem to be what’s happened from the top down. There’s a lot of lip service to openness and transparency, but it’s not there,” she said.

In 2019, when he published the list of priests accused of sexual abuse, all of whom were no longer in ministry, Coyne said he had promised “to continue the Diocese’s efforts to address past abuses of children by clergy, to work toward healing for those who have experienced abuse, to maintain a zero-tolerance policy for any individual with a substantiated allegation of sexual abuse, and to be transparent about the prevention, handling, and response to the sexual abuse of minors. In order to do so, it is clear to me that we must be fully honest about these sins of our past.” 

Law, archbishop of Boston since 1984, resigned in 2002 at the height of the abuse scandals, when he was shown to have ignored the serial abuse of children by priests in the archdiocese. The story, largely uncovered and reported by the Boston Globe, was depicted in the 2015 film “Spotlight,” which won an Oscar for best picture.

Law later was transferred to the Vatican, out of reach of American prosecutors, where he died in 2017 at 86.

In a statement upon Law’s death, reported in the Vermont Catholic, Coyne wrote, “The world at large will rightly have much to say at Cardinal Law’s passing from this life. Like each of us, the measure of his days had its fair share of light and shadows.

“While I knew him to be a man of faith, a kind man and a good friend, I respect that some will feel otherwise, and so I especially ask them to join me in prayer and work for the healing and renewal of our Church,” Coyne wrote.

According to the Pilot, the newspaper of the Archdiocese of Boston, Coyne asked to step down as spokesman because of the stresses of the job.

“It hasn’t just been about the abuse crisis or reconfiguration, but any moment in which the media has had any inquiry about the life of the archdiocese has gone through this office,” the Pilot quoted him as saying.

“Dealing with the media and media calls seven days a week at all hours of the day has been very stressful,” he said.

He said when Law resigned, “It was a very difficult day, for all kinds of reasons. … It was a very sad day for all of us.”

Adam D. Horowitz of Horowitz Law of Fort Lauderdale, Florida, who has represented many sexual abuse victims, said in an email, “Coyne is a very smart man. He knew how horrific Cardinal Law’s deception and recklessness and callousness in abuse cases was. Still, he opted to take the PR position.”

Kathryn Robb, executive director of CHILD USAdvocacy, said Coyne testified in March against a bill in the Vermont Legislature that would have repealed an exception for clergy in reporting abuse. Robb testifies across the country to strengthen child-protection laws.

The Vermont exception was for priests who learn about abuse “when it is received in confidence when acting as a spiritual advisor,” according to the bill, which died in committee.

“Automatically, my flag went up as an expert in this area,” Robb said. “That they care about their canons and code and not having priests excommunicated because of this, than they did care about the safety of children. No secret’s a good secret, even in a confessional. And so the fact that he took that position was a red flag for me.

“No one should have a privilege to conceal sexual abuse of children, period, and that is our position at CHILD USAdvocacy,” she said.

Ed Stannard can be reached at estannard@courant.com.