Bishop Accountability


* How were these archdiocesan documents released to the public?
Who is responsible for the public release of the Boston archdiocesan files?
* How did obtain these files?
* Why is posting these documents?
* Who will be interested in these posted documents, and why?
* How is making it easier to use these documents?
What are's plans for posting other Boston documents?
Why is it important to post the files in their entirety?
How have confidential details been treated in the posted documents?

How were these archdiocesan documents released to the public?

They were filed by the firm of Greenberg Traurig in the so-called Ford case, Gregory Ford et al. v. Bernard Cardinal Law et al. (Commonwealth of Masachusetts, Superior Court Department, Suffolk County Civil Action No. 02-04551-T1). The Addendum, which we have chosen to post first, is almost entirely a re-filing of documents previously filed in the case. The Addendum's archdiocesan documents had initially been filed (and hence made available to the public) beginning in April 2002. On April 8, 2002, Eric MacLeish of Greenberg Traurig released to the public the first batch of filed documents, relating to Paul Shanley. On December 3, 2002, he released the first files pertaining to other Boston priests.

Who is responsible for the public release of the Boston archdiocesan files?

Gregory Ford brought civil suit against Cardinal Bernard Law, supported by Greg's parents Paula and Rodney Ford. Their lawyer Eric MacLeish requested the archdiocesan documents in order to establish an institutional pattern and practice regarding sexual abuse. Associate Justice Constance M. Sweeney of the Massachusetts Superior Court courageously ordered the release of the documents.

How did obtain these files?

Anyone can obtain copies of these publicly filed documents, and there are two sources. They are on file and publicly accessible at the Suffolk County courthouse (Congress Street, Boston). The public may make copies of documents at the courthouse for a fee. They are also available to the public directly from the firm of Greenberg Traurig (1 International Place, Boston), for a fee that includes copy costs and paralegal expenses. obtained the Addendum documents from Greenberg Traurig.

Why is posting these documents?

Diocesan documents show--in the bishop's own words and those of his subordinates--how the diocese handled sexual abuse allegations and managed the abusers. The documents also include correspondence from other dioceses on the subject of transfers and treatment. They offer unique insight into the operations of the chancery. This information is of interest to many people who cannot visit the courthouse where they are filed.

Who will be interested in these posted documents, and why?

Few people can go to the courthouse in Boston and read these documents. But many people across the country and around the world have a legitimate interest in them:
* Survivors can read their perpetrator's file. Abusive Boston priests served in many places besides Boston during their careers, from California to New Hampshire, from Florida and Arizona to Canada. Now survivors at a distance from Boston will be able to learn what the Boston archdiocese knew about their perpetrator, and when.
* Catholics can learn how chanceries operate, and how lay boards have dealt with sexual abuse. Again, the Boston experience is relevant to all Catholics, wherever they live. Documents like the Boston files exist in every chancery in the United States, and Catholics have an interest in knowing what the files of their own diocese contain.
* Citizens can gain insight into the relationship between law enforcement and Catholic diocesan administration. They will also be able to learn whether the treatment and disciplining of abusive priests exposed their communities to risk.
* Priests and religious will be able to see a side of diocesan operations that they have perhaps long suspected.
* Bishops who are interested in reforming their own operations will be able to examine the procedures and problems experienced in Boston.
* The Pope and his administrators have very likely not seen many of these documents, which shed an intimate light on sexual abuse in the Catholic church, and on the bishops' responsibility for it.

How is making it easier to use these documents?

We have done several things. First, we've created a brief list of examples, called What's in a Diocesan Archive? This list contains brief descriptions of notable documents, with links for easy viewing.

Second, we are posting a list of all the documents, with clickable links to each one. This list is organized by priest, and includes the author of the document, the person to whom it was sent, a summary of each document's contents, and the date it was written. By scanning the list, you can find letters by Bishop D'Arcy, for example, or assignment records, or documents from a year that interests you. The list is about half complete and will be finished in July 2004.

Third, we are developing more sophisticated methods for searching the documents, which will allow you to search for documents by keyword.

What are's plans for posting other Boston documents?

We are planning to post all publicly filed Boston archdiocesan documents. First we will post documents mentioned in the Memorandum but not included in the Addendum. We will also add documents that are particularly helpful for understanding a priest's career. (We have already begun doing this on Robert Burns.) Then we will post entire priest's files, some of which run to many hundreds of pages.

Why is it important to post the files in their entirety?

The full file of released documents on an accused priest provides a detailed picture of allegations, transfers, treatment arrangements and their financing, and correspondence with other dioceses, if transfers between dioceses were involved. Samples cannot do the picture justice, and the person who selects the documents inevitably biases the selection. In working with these documents, we have seen this cut both ways. We have discovered remarkable essays by survivors, and we have also found letters from accused priests, objecting to the accusations against them or to the church's handling of their case. Both kinds of documents should be better known, but the public's understanding is currently limited to a small subset of the available files, and is further limited by the interpretations that journalists and lawyers have drawn from the sample.

How have confidential details been treated in the posted documents?

Associate Justice Constance M. Sweeney ordered that the documents be redacted before they were publicly filed (i.e., names and identifying details were blacked out). We have created our PDFs from these redacted files. If you see a redaction error while you are using the files, please notify us at, and we will take the file down until the error is corrected. It should be acknowledged that the names of priests and bishops have not been redacted by the lawyers, although some redactions were done by the archdiocese before the documents were turned over. In other words, the confidentiality of abuse victims has been protected, while the careers of the accused priests are documented in detail. This asymmetry was ordered by the court to remedy the secret practices of the archdiocese, which protected abusive priests and transferred them secretly into parishes where their crimes were unknown. The record of those secrets, now revealed, is necessary but not comfortable reading.


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