Reasons Vague As to Transfer from Boston

By Rebecca S. Green
The Journal Gazette [Indiana]
May 1, 2005

Twenty years after his arrival in Fort Wayne, Bishop John M. D'Arcy will say only that his old boss, Cardinal Bernard Law, wanted him to leave the Archdiocese of Boston.

What he won't speculate on is why.

However, at least one person who knows the situation he left behind in Boston is happy to connect the dots: she says the red flags that D'Arcy raised over sexual abuse by priests ultimately got him transferred.

When the sex abuse scandal exploded in the Roman Catholic Church in early 2002, amid the thousands of documents outlining abuse and an active cover-up by the hierarchy, a handful of letters written by D'Arcy surfaced.

The letters, addressed to Law and other superiors, warned of the conduct of at least four priests accused of violence, alcoholism, drug use and sexual abuse. Beginning in July 1978, the letters continued up until D'Arcy's transfer to the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend in 1985. D'Arcy will mark the 20th anniversary of his new assignment this weekend.

"He won't say it, but obviously the effect of what he did, it had to be in retaliation for him bringing to light this conduct," said Illinois Appellate Court Justice Anne Burke, the former head of the National Catholic Lay Review Board tasked to examine the scope of the clergy sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in the U.S.

"One can draw their own conclusion, and I have," she said. "And I see nothing that could be another reason."

D'Arcy has said that he forgot about the letters until they were uncovered as part of an investigation by the Boston Globe in 2002.

But since the letters became known, D'Arcy has said that trying to connect the reassignment to Indiana to the proximity of the timing of the letters to Law was only speculation.

An auxiliary bishop in Boston, D'Arcy was in charge of the geographic region north of Boston, as well as the director of spiritual development. And as part of his job, D'Arcy had the authority to recommend priests for placement as pastors, choosing from a list of candidates. However, the final decision rested with his superiors.

For the past 20 years in this diocese, D'Arcy has stressed the importance of selecting men who are spiritually mature for the priesthood men, he says, who would make good husbands.

It seems he had been preaching the same sermon in Boston.

In his letters to Law and other superiors, D'Arcy warned about the behavior of former priest John Geoghan. Defrocked and convicted, Geoghan was slain in a Massachusetts prison in 2003, where he was serving a nine- to 10-year sentence for groping a young boy.

Since the scandal, Law resigned as the archbishop of Boston and has been reassigned to a posting at the Vatican. He now serves as the Archpriest at the Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome.

In May 2002, Law gave a deposition in a lawsuit connected to the clergy abuse. CBS reported at the time that Law testified he did not recall ever receiving any letters warning of Geoghan's behavior.

Attempts to reach Law at the Santa Maria Maggiore were unsuccessful, and a call to the Archdiocese of Boston was not returned.

In a recent interview, D'Arcy said Law wanted him to move on and was glad to give him a new appointment, but he refuses to comment on Law's possible motivation.

"The cardinal wanted me to go," he said.

But Burke, well-versed in the ways of the Catholic hierarchy and the pattern of shuffling priests from parish to parish, is more than willing to speculate.

While on the board, she listened to D'Arcy's testimony about his experience.

She said he described to the board how he, as a young auxiliary bishop in Boston, had become aware of Geoghan's conduct and started to record instances when suspicions were brought to his attention.

D'Arcy then brought it to the attention of Cardinal Humberto Meideros, who was at that time the head of the archdiocese, Burke said.

"Obviously, it fell on deaf ears," she said.

When Law came on as archbishop, the information was passed on to him, Burke said.

Based on the review board interviews with D'Arcy, Burke said her impression of his transfer was that Law called him in and told him the papal nuncio, or representative, called and said D'Arcy was going to get his own diocese.

She said D'Arcy was thrilled, until he thought about his elderly mother, who was in failing health. When he asked whether it would be possible to wait a couple of months or a year to take the assignment, Law said no.

"Obviously, Law didn't want to deal with it, and he got to have Geoghan transferred in his diocese," Burke said.

For his part, D'Arcy said when he heard they were considering a new posting for him, he expressed a desire to stay, saying he was happy where he was.

His mother, then in her late 80s, was in declining health and wanted to remain in her own home. D'Arcy said he was responsible for much of her care.

"The sacrifice belonged to my mother," he said.

She died in 1987.

The Rev. Edmund Sviokla is now a semiretired priest in the Boston area and still a close friend of D'Arcy's.

The two met when both were in youth ministry and remained good friends after D'Arcy, about five years Sviokla's junior, was asked to come to Rome to study, and then was elevated to the position of bishop.

"He would always look at the bright side and encourage you to do the right thing the better thing," Sviokla said. "He was very well respected, and a happy guy."

Sviokla said he doesn't know about D'Arcy's relationship with Law, but he said the decision to accept the appointment to South Bend-Fort Wayne was a tough one.

"Fort Wayne you may as well be in China," he said. "It's a thousand miles. I know it was a difficult decision to make. He was well-received here."

While in Boston, D'Arcy said he also enjoyed his sacramental work of preaching and teaching.

He felt the move was the call of Christ but also meant the uprooting of his whole life, which as a diocesan priest was given to a particular diocese.

When he first heard word that he had been assigned to Indiana, D'Arcy said he went to Castle Island in Boston Harbor. It was a place he said he frequently retreated to for prayer and decision-making.

It was February 1985, and the weather was cold, so he said he found a bench and sat to think.

"It was a big decision," he said.

D'Arcy is adamant that the reassignment to Indiana, away from family and his lifelong home, was God's will and led to a diocese important to the Catholic Church.

Burke would agree that God did want D'Arcy in Indiana, but it was Law who sent him here, with a complete disregard to D'Arcy's concerns about his family.

"It just shows the nature of Cardinal Law, to not care for anyone but himself," she said, adding that Law's recent decision to perform one of nine daily Masses in honor of Pope John Paul II in Rome, rather than recusing himself, brought disgrace to the church again.

In a speech in January to a group of lay Catholics, Michiana Call To Action, Burke told the audience that "D'Arcy had shined a light over 20 years ago on the scandal that ultimately erupted in Boston.

"His concerns went unheeded by those in power, and he eventually watched in horror as all that he had exposed finally saw the light of day," she wrote in her speech.

D'Arcy said he has had little or no contact with Law since he left Boston, except for occasionally bumping into him at conferences.

He said he told his former superior he was praying for him.

The child of Irish immigrants, D'Arcy said his life growing up centered on three things: the home, the parish and the baseball field. His parents, who he said were the two greatest lights of his life, had a strong faith. He has a sister who is a nun.

"I'm sure I'm a priest because of them," he said. "There was nothing more important than doing God's will."

Sviokla said D'Arcy's absence is still noted in Boston.

"We miss him. We miss him very much," he said. "He's just a super guy. We wish we had more like him."


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