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Spotlight Report

Church to release data

Archdioceses agrees to waive confidentiality

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 3/2/2002

Under pressure from the state's top prosecutors, the Archdiocese of Boston yesterday consented to waive confidentiality agreements that had prevented victims from giving prosecutors details about priests who sexually abused them as children.

''The archdiocese has agreed to give us what we need to go forward,'' said Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly. His intervention was sought by five district attorneys who said the archdiocese, for a month, had ignored their requests for the names of victims, witnesses, and the substance of allegations against the 90 priests whose names the church had given them.

The announcement of the agreement between the prosecutors and Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the archdiocese's lawyer, followed a 90-minute meeting between the two sides in Reilly's office. Rogers and his legal team, including sons Wilson Rogers III and Mark Rogers, left by a side door and down a stairwell, avoiding reporters.

Rogers did not return a telephone call seeking comment. But Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, issued a statement promising to ''improve the flow of information'' to the prosecutors.

Referring to victims who had previously reached settlements with the church that included secrecy provisions, Morrissey said: ''The archdiocese releases those individuals from those provisions for confidentiality. We have done this so that anyone with information regarding allegations is relieved of any legal constraints to speak about the allegations to the proper authorities.''

Yesterday's meeting was requested in a letter Thursday to Rogers from Reilly and the five district attorneys - Kevin M. Burke of Essex, Martha Coakley of Middlesex, Daniel F. Conley of Suffolk, Timothy J. Cruz of Plymouth, and William R. Keating of Norfolk - that warned that the prosecutors would resort to the ''compulsory process'' of a grand jury unless the archdiocese turned over the records voluntarily.

In the past month, the archdiocese has turned over the names of about 90 priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children over the last 50 years. But prosecutors said the archdiocese refused to turn over the names of victims and witnesses, information they need to determine whether any of the priests should be charged.

During the closed-door meeting, prosecutors said, Rogers quickly agreed to turn over the names of victims and witnesses in cases where there were no confidentiality agreements. But Rogers balked at handing over the names of victims who had signed confidentiality agreements, which some victims wanted to protect their privacy, and which suited the archdiocese's desire to keep the extent of the abuse from being made public.

Reilly said that sticking point was quickly overcome when prosecutors agreed to contact lawyers who represented victims who signed confidentiality agreements. Reilly said those lawyers will in turn ask the victims whether they want to talk to prosecutors.

Addressing another concern, prosecutors said they did not need medical and psychological records of victims that are part of some of the case files held by the archdiocese.

Reilly said Rogers assured prosecutors they would have the names of victims or victims' lawyers by March 18.

Reilly and the five district attorneys said they expect that the vast majority of the cases involving the 90 priests will not result in prosecutions, either because the statute of limitations has expired or the victims do not want to prosecute.

Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer who represented many of the victims, said he had already talked to several of his clients, and they were willing to help prosecutors. But Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose law firm represented many other victims, said he had talked to several who thought that little could be done since the statute of limitations had expired in their cases.

All of the prosecutors yesterday said they would not seek a prosecution without the consent of a victim. But Keating, the Norfolk prosecutor, appealed to some victims who may not want to prosecute to come forward anyway so their information can be used to prevent future abuse.

''By talking to our advocates, even victims who don't want to go forward [to trial] can save other people,'' said Keating.

While acknowledging that the archdiocese had legitimate concerns about honoring the confidentiality agreements, neither Reilly nor the five district attorneys could explain why the archdiocese allowed the dispute to drag out for a month before agreeing to turn over the information prosecutors had been seeking.

Reilly downplayed his role in forcing the archdiocese to waive the confidentiality agreements. But it marked the second time that his direct involvement moved Cardinal Bernard F. Law to change his mind. In January, Law said he would refer all future cases of alleged sexual abuse by priests to the authorities, but not cases that happened in the past. Law reversed himself after Reilly and Burke publicly criticized the cardinal's stance.

Reilly suggested the archdiocese changed its mind because of the solidarity shown by the five district attorneys.

''Should it have happened before?'' Reilly said of the latest change of heart by the archdiocese. ''Yes.''

There were apparently logistical problems with the church providing the information sought, but prosecutors said they did not understand why the archdiocese did not agree to turn over the information last month. Burke said the archdiocese's record-keeping is ''backward at best.''

''They said that was an impediment for them, and we believe them,'' said Burke.

But Burke said the archdiocese in 1993 vowed to improve its record-keeping in the wake of the scandal involving Rev. James R. Porter, who was convicted of molesting scores of children.

''There was an opportunity in the last nine years to improve record-keeping and protect people. The archdiocese fell short of that,'' said Burke.

Law has apologized for transferring a known child molester, the Rev. John J. Geoghan, to a parish where he had access to children. Asked if either Law or any other church superior who supervised pedophile priests were liable for prosecution because they put pedophiles in a position to abuse children, Burke said there is currently no state law to permit prosecutors to pursue such a charge. He said the state's obstruction of justice statute is the one that could most easily be amended to deter supervisors of known pedophiles from covering up for them.

Prosecutors said they had formed a task force to coordinate the collection of information and potential prosecutions as they pore over allegations that cross county lines. Geline W. Williams, who prosecuted a Hingham priest, the Rev. John Hanlon, who received a life sentence after being convicted of raping children, will head the task force.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/2/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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