Cardinal Sean O'Malley Cites Progress Made against Clergy Abuse

By Michael Paulson
Boston Globe
March 13, 2009

[Cardinal O'Malley's letter]

BRAINTREE - Reflecting on his five years responding to the local sexual abuse scandal, Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley said the Archdiocese of Boston is moving "beyond an atmosphere of crisis to one of implementation and vigilance."

In a six-page letter being released today, O'Malley outlines a series of changes the archdiocese is carrying out to make abuse prevention and detection a permanent part of the bureaucracy.

The cardinal also suggested the archdiocese is on the verge of publishing a list of priests accused of abuse, saying church officials are considering "disclosing information about accused clergy and the status of cases against them." Such lists are a top priority of survivor advocacy groups and have been released by a few other dioceses.

"This is a complex issue," the cardinal wrote, alluding to concerns that have been raised about the fairness of publishing names of people who have been accused but not convicted of a crime. "However, my expectation is that in the very near future we will be in a position to report a revision of present archdiocesan policy on this subject."

Church officials interviewed yesterday said that since they began running parish-based training programs encouraging people to report child abuse, 500 accusations have been lodged, and all have been reported to state authorities. The officials said 90 percent of the accusations were against a family or household member. Only one of the accusations was against a priest, the archdiocese said.

The cardinal's letter is being issued to coincide with the release of the annual audit of all dioceses in the United States for compliance with the child protection measures to which the American bishops committed in spring 2002. The Archdiocese of Boston said it was found in full compliance - unlike last year, when it was ruled out of compliance because several dozen parishes had refused or failed to train children to resist abuse.

Archdiocesan officials said that this year, only one priest, the Rev. David J. Mullen of Bellingham, is declining to implement a training program for children.

"I've never been, in principle, been opposed to a safe environment program, and he could have his 100 percent compliance if the programs were in compliance with Catholic principles," Mullen said in a phone interview.

Mullen argued that the programs advocated by the archdiocese are not appropriate for young children and that the entire concept "is based on an illusion, and the illusion is that children can protect themselves. Children cannot protect themselves; adults protect children."

Mullen said his parish had requested a meeting with the cardinal; O'Malley has instead asked staff to respond.

The archdiocese said that it believes that another 20 parishes, including three visited by the auditors, are not fully implementing the program because of procedural, rather than principled, concerns and that all of those parishes are now coming into compliance.

"Over the course of more than seven years, a variety of people, both members of the church and people who are not members of the church, have reviewed these programs and have found them to be appropriate and effective. And the vast majority of the parishes, clergy, parents, and teachers in the archdiocese have not only been trained in them, but have embraced them," said the Rev. John J. Connolly, who oversees abuse-related issues for O'Malley.

Connolly also said that after several years in which the archdiocese has used supplemental curriculums developed by child advocacy groups to teach children to resist and report inappropriate touching by adults, the archdiocese is now working with Catholic publishers to integrate abuse prevention lessons into the texts used in religious education.

Many of the other changes the archdiocese is making are structural, but reflect the end of several temporary measures taken at the height of the abuse crisis and the attempted integration of abuse-response measures into the permanent archdiocesan operation, which includes 12 people who work full time on preventing and responding to abuse.

An advisory committee is being disbanded after six years and its tasks folded into a permanent diocesan review board; an annual audit of the archdiocesan prevention measures is being altered so the archdiocese will report its own progress two of every three years and external auditors will come only during the third year.

"In 2002 and 2003 the archdiocese mounted all these new programs in response to a terrible crisis and a terrible revelation," said Mary Jane Doherty, a Regis College administrator who chairs the Implementation and Oversight Advisory Committee, the panel being disbanded. "What we've been working on is getting them routinized, because there is so much abuse out there, this has to be more normative than special."

Michael Paulson can be reached at


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