Boston Report Critical of Hughes
Archbishop Denies Concealing Sex Abuse

By Bruce Nolan
Times-Picayune [New Orleans LA]
July 24, 2003

A scathing report from the Massachusetts attorney general accuses New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes of withholding information about a victim from Boston area prosecutors preparing to try a priest for child rape when Hughes was a bishop there 11 years ago. But Hughes contested that, saying he cooperated and even called investigators to offer his help.

The account of the incident was just a fragment of the report, released Wednesday and based on a 16-month grand jury investigation into the Boston hierarchy's handling of complaints of sexual abuse against priests.

The Massachusetts report had particular resonance for New Orleans. Hughes, a Boston native, was Cardinal Bernard Law's top aide from 1990 until he was sent to become bishop of Baton Rouge in 1993. He became archbishop of New Orleans Jan. 3, 2002, three days before the scandal erupted in Boston.

The Massachusetts grand jury found that, over six decades, almost 250 priests probably abused more than 1,000 children and were routinely shielded by Boston's hierarchy in a scandal so massive "it borders on the unbelievable," Attorney General Thomas Reilly said at a news conference unveiling the report.

However, the passage of time and Massachusetts' relatively weak child-protection laws at the time of the alleged crimes made it impossible to prosecute Law or any of his former aides, Reilly's prosecutors concluded.

"No one is more disappointed than me and our staff that we could not bring criminal charges," Reilly said. "We looked, we tried, and it wasn't there." Law resigned as Boston archbishop in December over his handling of the child sex-abuse scandal.

Code of secrecy cited

Reilly's disclosure about Hughes and the case of the Rev. John Hanlon appeared to be new. It had not previously surfaced over the past year and a half in thousands of pages of court documents detailing the church's handling of abusive priests.

Reilly cited it, with several other cases involving other Law aides, as an example of a code of secrecy and "misguided values" in the church that helped produce "the greatest tragedy to befall children in this commonwealth in terms of sexual abuse."

"It is enormous," he said.

But the basic facts of Reilly's assertion about Hughes and Hanlon were sharply in dispute Wednesday.

The incident is detailed twice in the 88-page report, both times to illustrate what Reilly said was a Boston pattern of either not alerting authorities to complaints of abuse or withholding key information even when authorities were notified.

According to Reilly's report, not long after Hanlon was indicted in the summer of 1992 on charges of twice raping an altar boy 12 years earlier, "Bishop Hughes became personally aware of another credible but uncharged allegation" against Hanlon.

"Despite the fact that the criminal investigators and prosecutors reached out directly to Bishop Hughes during the investigation and prosecution of Father Hanlon, he never disclosed this new information to law enforcement authorities," the report says.

As Hanlon's trial was drawing to a close amid much public support for the priest, the unnamed victim Hughes knew of came forward on his own.

It was by then too late for the new victim to participate in that trial, the report says. It ended in a hung jury. But two years later, he and other victims who had been emboldened to come forward did testify and helped secure Hanlon's conviction. Hanlon was sentenced to life in prison in 1994.

Different recollections

However, Hughes, who was out of town Wednesday on undisclosed business, recalled a different version of events through a statement issued by the archdiocese and briefings by the Rev. William Maestri, its spokesman.

Hughes said he quickly removed Hanlon from ministry when he received a credible complaint about him. He later called authorities, not to make the first notification, but to offer his assistance, Maestri said.

Shortly after removing Hanlon, Hughes said, he faced heckling parishioners when he preached at Hanlon's parish to explain their pastor's removal.

When he later received another complaint about Hanlon, he did not call civil authorities because, he said, he assumed that under archdiocesan practice that victim had been told he could go to police on his own. Maestri said he thought the process had changed between the first and second complaints, explaining the differences in Hughes' response.

Hughes said he was consistently forthcoming in talking to police.

"Whenever I was contacted by the police and asked for information, I provided whatever information I could have," Hughes' statement said.

14 priests removed

Hughes pointed out that, as vicar, he removed 14 priests on complaints of sexual abuse arising between 1990 and 1993. (To illustrate the scope of Boston's experience with clerical abuse, in New Orleans last year Hughes found 10 priests to be credibly accused of sexual abuse in a review of 50 years worth of allegations.)

He said he helped oversee the creation of Boston's first written policy governing such allegations, which included the appointment of a victims assistance coordinator and an independent review board to advise Law on complaints against priests.

Hughes said he was sorry any children were abused.

"The sexual abuse of one child is too many," he wrote. "There were a few instances wherein I may not have acted quickly enough," his statement continued. In each case, he said, he relied on a professional psychological assessment or recommendations.

"Some of these recommendations proved to be quite faulty. I will now rely much more on pastoral and moral conviction."

No one from Reilly's staff was available to analyze why Hughes could not be prosecuted under their version of the facts of the incident. But Wendy Murphy, a former Boston prosecutor and now a victims advocate, expressed frustration at the vagueness of Reilly's narrative.

"What does Reilly mean when he says (Hughes) didn't reveal it?" Murphy asked. "Did the prosecutor ask? If he did, was it clear it was in the context of a criminal investigation? If he did and Hughes' answer was no, that's far more likely to be prosecutable than mere silence in the absence of question.

"What's not a crime is someone in a position of knowing a (newer) assault had occurred just being silent," Murphy said.

"That's not a crime. It's only a crime if you're obligated by law to report" sexual abuse of a minor, which Massachusetts in 1992 did not require, she said.

Since the scandal erupted, Massachusetts and Louisiana have both added clergy to the list of professions that must report suspected cases of child abuse to authorities.

Hiring recommendation

The attorney general's report also recounts Hughes' previously disclosed involvement in Boston's employment of the Rev. Robert Burns, an Ohio priest turned out of his Youngstown, Ohio, diocese for molesting a child.

Acting on the 1982 request of then-Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, Hughes, who was then a seminary rector, interviewed Burns to get a sense of his spiritual development after Burns' release from a psychiatric hospital for treatment of his sexual disorder.

Hughes recommended that Burns be hired but given only limited duty away from children. Years later, Hughes learned to his dismay that his recommendation had not been followed, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of New Orleans said last year when the case was first disclosed.

Instead, Burns was placed among children in two parishes, his supervisors there were not told of his past, and Burns molested at least 13 more children, according to the report. He has since been stripped of his priesthood and is serving time in a New Hampshire prison for another sexual offense there.

'Misguided priorities'

Overall, the attorney general's report attributes the Boston scandal "to an institutional acceptance of abuse and a massive and pervasive failure of leadership."

"For at least six decades, three successive archbishops, their bishops and others in positions of authority within the archdiocese operated with tragically misguided priorities," the report says.

"They chose to protect the image and reputation of their institution rather than the safety and well-being of the children entrusted to their care. They acted with a misguided devotion to secrecy. And they failed to break their code of silence even when the magnitude of what had occurred would have alerted any reasonable, responsible manager that help was needed," the report says.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese, said the church has already taken "substantial steps" to prevent child abuse. Law's successor, Archbishop-elect Sean Patrick O'Malley, is to be installed next week and has pledged to heal the fractured archdiocese.

"The Archdiocese of Boston reiterates its commitment that the archdiocese will treat sexual abuse of a child as a criminal matter, that it will end any culture of secrecy in the handling of such matters . . . and that the archdiocese is committed to work at every level to ensure the safety of children," Coyne said.

The attorney general's report is posted at his office's Web site,

This report contains material from The Associated Press.

Bruce Nolan can be reached at or (504) 826-3344.


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