Xaverian Brothers’ disclosure on past sexual abuse falls short

By Eric Macleish
July 16, 2019

Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood.
Photo by Joanne Rathe

Last weekend, the Xaverian Brothers, a religious order that operates five Catholic high schools in Massachusetts, released the names of 34 priests alleged to have sexually abused children in St. John’s Preparatory School in Danvers, Xaverian Brothers High School in Westwood, St. John’s High School in Shrewsbury, and Malden Catholic High School. This disclosure differs dramatically from those transparent investigations made recently by private schools all around the country and pays only lip service to current standards on responses to sexual abuse allegations.

For starters, the data for the current report was based on a “file review,” presumably of personnel files. In 2002, then-Cardinal Bernard Law promised a similar file review, which captured only a fraction of child molesters masquerading as priests and contained almost no information about their enablers. File reviews presume that the despicable crimes of religious order priests and their superiors were well documented. While some crimes were described, no investigation can presume that a file review tells the complete story. The horrific history of child abuse is littered with cover-ups and the deletion of information concerning predatory priests and cooperative bishops.

What the Xaverian Brothers should have done is to send out a letter to its alumni inviting them to report any instance of child abuse to a truly independent investigator. St. George’s School in Rhode Island, St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire, and Choate Rosemary Hall and the Hotchkiss School in Connecticut sent such letters, which identified the investigator. (Xaverian did not identify its file review investigator). Xaverian Brothers should follow the lead of those schools, all of which produced comprehensive reports that resulted in adverse action against former heads in four schools. Indeed, because victims were not asked to contact the Xaverian investigator, there is no indication of how many children these predators molested. But the number is likely to be in the hundreds.

As Marty Murphy, the investigator in the St. George’s case wrote, victims deserve the complete truth, not reasons why the truth cannot be told. At best, the Xaverian Brothers report is just a partial snapshot of the horrors that its students were forced to endure. They deserve more.

The abbreviated investigation of the brothers also failed in one other critical respect. There will always be predators who will want to gain access to children by working in education. They are evil sociopaths. But those who bear an equal responsibility for their crimes are the supervisors, deans, and heads of school who either knew what was happening or who failed to adopt adequate procedures to prevent abuse. It is a virtual certainty, given the large number of abusive brothers already identified, that there were multiple leadership failures, none of which are discussed in the report and which render it essentially useless.

All schools, particularly those run by religious orders, have a moral duty to complete transparency and honesty. The Xaverian Brothers’ report falls far short of established standards. Until the order meets those standards, no current student or parent can automatically assume that their school is committed to student safety in this area. Because the first step to current student safety is to acknowledge in complete detail the failures of the past, no matter how shameful those failings may be.

Eric MacLeish was the lead counsel in the abuse cases against the Boston Archdiocese from 2002 to 2004. He currently litigates against private schools in the Northeast.


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