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Policy, board promised for abuse cases tied to clergy

Cardinal Law tells of system

By Linda Matchan and James L. Franklin, Globe Staff 11/12/1992

 In-depth
In 1992, the Rev. James R. Porter case in Fall River brought the problem of clergy abuse into the open.  
Coverage of the Porter case
ardinal Bernard F. Law said yesterday he will set up a review panel, including parents and medical and legal authorities, to handle sexual abuse complaints against priests in the Boston Archiocese.

No additional cases of sexual misconduct, other than those that have already been brought to authorities, were revealed in a review of the personnel files, the cardinal also disclosed.

In his first detailed interview on the subject of sexual misconduct by clergy, the cardinal said officials of the Catholic archdiocese are working on their "ninth, going on its tenth draft" of a policy. He termed the work a "sound pastoral response to the alleged victim of abuse, the family, to the parish -- who will obviously be affected -- and to the priest."

The cardinal declined to be specific about the details of the policy, which he said would be released by the end of December.

But he acknowledged that a key component would be a board to review actions recommended by two delegates he said yesterday are receiving and investigating allegations of sexual abuse by clergy in the diocese.

The board will be "an interdisciplinary group" of people with expertise and special interest in sexual abuse issues, including those with medical, legal and psychology backgrounds, as well as parents, Cardinal Law said.

"One of the things I'm asking the review board to do is to review those cases we have handled in the past, to be certain in light of all we have now learned that what we have done is responsibly done," he said. "The files have been gone through, we don't see anything, as I understand it, that calls for a new kind of intervention."

"But I want those cases reviewed by the panel so that I can have the assurance from another objective source that everything that can be done has been responsibly done," he said.

"Obviously if sexual abuse is present, or this is alleged to be present, you have to deal with it . . . forthrightly." He called sexual abuse by a member of the clergy "a violation of trust which is just unspeakable in terms of the horror."

The cardinal said he could not indicate "off the top of my head" the specific number of cases of abuse that have emerged from the review of personnel files. "I don't know that I will give a number" in the future, he said. "I have to be guided by my counselors on that point."

"The percentage of cases is relatively low" in the Boston Archdiocese, he said.

Cardinal Law expressed deep sorrow at the "absolute tragedy" of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, and at the "depth of pain" experienced by victims.

"I wish to God there were a way that people could be totally healed of the experience of the abuse," the cardinal said. "There is a way the violation of this trust on the part of the clergy is comparable to the violation of the trust of the parent. It isn't accidental that we call a priest 'father.' There is that kind of a relationship."

Victims bringing forward new allegations of abuse are referred first to one of two delegates he has named to work in his name, Cardinal Law said. They are Rev. John B. McCormack, the cardinal's secretary of ministerial personnel in the archdiocese, and Sister Catherine E. Mulkerrin, former president of the Sisters of St. Joseph and an experienced parish minister.

Father McCormack has long been delegated to receive such allegations in his position as a member of Cardinal Law's Cabinet, but Sister Mulkerrin's role as a delegate had not been announced before yesterday.

Cardinal Law said he expects both delegates to continue their work after the policy goes into effect, and said that the archdiocese will pay for psychological counseling for victims.

He said the policy is "very specific" in that it pertains to priests, deacons and clergy. But he said he has also named a task force, headed by Auxiliary Bishop John Boles, to formulate a policy for handling charges against church workers who are not members of the clergy.

Efforts to develop the archdiocesan policy emerge at a time when church officials across the country face an alarming number of reports of priests committing sexual abuse, many with children. A priest of the Boston Archdiocese, Rev. John R. Hanlon, is charged with sexually molesting three boys in Massachusetts and Vermont in the early 1980s.

The policy also comes in the wake of the notorious case of James Porter, formerly a priest of the Fall River diocese, who has been indicted on charges he sexually molested at least 70 girls and boys while working in three parishes in southeastern Massachusetts. Fall River Bishop Sean O'Malley has released proposed guidelines for handling future abuse cases and has asked for public help in finalizing the new procedures.

Around the country, diocesan officials have begun implementing far-reaching policies aimed at eliminating the problems of sexual abuse by clergy and at ministering to victims.

The policies and procedures set in place by Chicago Cardinal Joseph Bernadin, for example, provide for a minister and a team of trained specialists to assist victims and their families; an 800 telephone number to encourage people to report allegations of misconduct; and a comprehensive program of preventive education for all archdiocesan personnel.

In the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, authorities must immediately report all recent allegations of sexual abuse to police, according to the vicar general, Rev. Kevin McDonough.

Both archdioceses use at least one lay person to process and manage the cases of priests against whom allegations have been made, believing that victims would be more likely to report abuse by clergy to someone who is not a member of the clergy.

Under the Boston policy, however, victims would not report allegations directly to a lay person, although Cardinal Law said "we certainly will not be averse to that . . . if it were to be indicated that this would be a helpful thing."

Nor would the archdiocese ordinarily take abuse cases to police, Cardinal Law said, except for those cases that must be reported under the law.

"The ordinary work of a priest is not covered by that kind of demand for reporting and this policy does not call for reporting to legal authorities," he said.

Again and again Cardinal Law emphasized the "family" dimensions of the abuse problem, and the need to handle it "pastorally."

"What I hope for in the policy is a policy that will not be a legal approach, but it will be a pastoral approach," he said. "We live our lives as a community of faith, very much like a family. And there is a familial relationship between the bishop and those who constitute the dioceses -- in this case, two million lay people -- there is a familial relationship certainly with the parish. . . There is a familial relationship with the priests. It isn't an employer-employee relationship. . .

"Now that doesn't preclude at all the fact that an individual may indeed choose and has every right to choose legal recourse and legal action."

Cardinal Law said there has been a great deal of input into the formulation of the policy. It has been reviewed by consultative bodies within the archdiocese. Both the Presbyteral Council -- which includes priests, deacons, and bishops -- and the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council -- which includes lay persons, members of religious orders, and priests -- have reviewed it.

One version of the policy was presented at two meetings of priests, and each drew more than 500, he said.

Until now the archdiocese had dealt with cases on an a case-by-case basis, Cardinal Law said.

That approach, which he said he had used since he became a bishop in 1973 in the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo., involves investigation, evaluation of the accused priest, with follow-up care and monitoring of anyone believed to have committed abuse, he said.

Cardinal Law said he is convinced that the Boston Archdiocese has not reacted to abuse problems by merely transferring offenders from one parish to another, as had apparently been done in the Porter case.

The archdiocese does not have a policy on whether priests found to have committed sexual abuse can return to ministry, Cardinal Law said. "We don't reassign anybody who represents a threat," he said.

But if an offender "has gone through extensive inpatient treatment" and is found not to be a pedophile or threat to older minors, he may be put back into mininstry, the cardinal said.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 11/12/1992.
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