The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church

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A grand jury is said to weigh case against Law

By Kevin Cullen and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 6/19/2002

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly has convened a grand jury to consider whether there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Cardinal Bernard F. Law and other leaders of the Archdiocese of Boston for putting priests in position to sexually abuse minors, according to law enforcement sources.

Those sources said the grand jury, which has been collecting evidence for weeks, has focused on building a paper trail on the abuse committed by priests and the response of Law and his deputies.

They suggested the chances of criminal charges arising from the grand jury appear remote, but said the prospect of new evidence being turned up, and the huge amount of church documentation, favored a grand jury probe.

Citing state law that makes it illegal for prosecutors to discuss secret grand jury proceedings, Reilly declined to confirm or deny the existence of the grand jury.

Law enforcement sources said Reilly is wary of raising expectations about criminal charges against Law or other church supervisors, but also said that the attorney general's office wanted to explore all prosecutorial avenues before deciding whether the actions, or inactions, of church supervisors amounted to criminal conduct.

One law enforcement official familiar with the grand jury investigation said prosecutors would ''really need a fresh case'' before there could be criminal charges, because statutes of limitations in the cases already revealed would make charges impossible.

Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, last night said she was not aware of the existence of a grand jury.

In previous interviews, Reilly and various district attorneys have said that state laws on conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and being an accessory to a crime make it difficult to charge someone whose actions simply put someone in a position to commit a crime.

But in an interview in April, Reilly said his office had not ruled out bringing criminal charges against Law and other church supervisors, and said his office had an obligation to conduct an extensive review, based in part on the continuous release of archdiocese documents about priests who are the subjects of civil lawsuits.

''We have an obligation to look at this closely criminally, and we've been doing that,'' Reilly said in April. ''There may in fact not be a criminal solution other than the priests who abused children. We haven't ruled anything in, but we haven't ruled anything out.''

It could not be determined when the grand jury began sitting.

Law enforcement sources said convening a grand jury was a logical step in a paper-heavy case. Wendy Murphy, a former prosecutor who now represents victims of sexual abuse and is a professor at New England School of Law, agrees.

''Convening a grand jury makes sense because it protects against the practice that the church can make discretionary decisions on disclosure'' of documents about abusive priests, said Murphy. ''To make sure that all the paper gets produced, unredacted, the grand jury is a solution.''

Murphy said convening a grand jury creates a stronger incentive for the archdiocese to turn over all its records on abusive priests.

''The rules are much tougher with a criminal grand jury, and the sanctions for noncompliance much more severe,'' she said. ''In a civil case, you can do a lot of fancy footwork on disclosure that you can't get away with criminally.''

She said that after prosecutors are satisfied that they have secured all of the documents related to sexually abusive priests and their supervisors' efforts to keep the allegations against them quiet, a next logical step would be to begin calling witnesses, possibly including Law, other supervisors, priests, and archdiocese employees. She said discrepancies could arise, and a ''smoking gun'' could be found.

In early April, the Globe reported that Kurt N. Schwartz, chief of the criminal division under Reilly, and state troopers assigned to his office were miffed when they found out that they had not received from the archdiocese all of the documents about the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who is awaiting trial on charges that he raped a Newton boy.

In late April, prosecutors were even more disturbed to learn that the archdiocese had discovered additional records about Shanley showing that church officials knew he had advocated sex between men and boys yet allowed him to continue working as a parish priest. At the time, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for Law, said the archdiocese was embarrassed by the late discovery of documents, but insisted it was an oversight.

Attorneys assigned to the civil rights unit of Reilly's office are carrying out a separate investigation to determine whether they can use the state's civil rights law to seek an injunction against the archdiocese on the grounds that it is not doing enough to protect children. Sources familiar with that investigation say that it is still in the preliminary stages and that Reilly's office does not have enough evidence to show that children are currently at risk to warrant intervention.

Investigators from Reilly's criminal and civil rights divisions have been conducting interviews since at least early April, according to those interviewed.

Philip Saviano, New England director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said he met with investigators from both divisions for more than two hours on April 5. A. W. Richard Sipe, a therapist and former priest who has written several books about clergy sexual abuse, said he too spoke by telephone with criminal and civil investigators for more than two hours later that month.

Saviano and Sipe said the investigators asked about the manner in which church officials treated allegations of clergy sexual abuse. They also asked about treatment centers that have evaluated and counseled accused priests at the request of the church, and about legal settlements.

One attorney who was interviewed said investigators told him they were reviewing possible criminal charges against Law. But those who were interviewed said that, for the most part, investigators appeared to be building a knowledge base on the church hierarchy and its procedures for handling sexual abuse allegations.

''It seemed that they were at the initial stages of trying to understand the issues and procedures, but at the same time very serious,'' Saviano said.

Sipe, who has served as an expert witness for alleged victims in dozens of sexual abuse lawsuits, said the investigators asked questions in a similar vein.

''They were interested in church structure and how information is passed along,'' he said.

Sipe said the investigators also asked about a $5.2 million settlement of a California clergy sexual abuse lawsuit.

''They were interested in that settlement, particularly in the nonfinancial requirements, including the apology and the establishment of a 1-800 number'' for alleged victims and others who wish to report abuse allegations.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/19/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Boston Globe Electronic Publishing LLC.


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