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Reilly doesn't rule out charges vs. supervisors

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 4/10/2002

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly yesterday said his office has not ruled out bringing criminal charges against the supervisors of priests who sexually abused minors.

Prosecutors in Reilly's office have told the archdiocese they need more information on how the Chancery, Cardinal Bernard F. Law's office, handles sexual abuse complaints, and are negotiating with the archdiocese to interview members of the hierarchy in supervisory positions.

Reilly's office yesterday began reviewing newly released documents that show that Law and his deputies failed to react to complaints against the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, and helped Shanley get new assignments with access to children, despite ample evidence that Shanley had been accused of sexual abuse and had endorsed sexual relationships between men and boys.

In an interview, Reilly repeated an earlier assessment 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 he confirmed that lawyers in his office are engaged in a comprehensive review of whether any state statutes apply to the actions of those who supervised priests who sexually abused children.

''We have an obligation to look at this closely criminally, and we've been doing that,'' said Reilly. ''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.''

Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, did not return a phone call from the Globe seeking comment.

Last week, Kurt N. Schwartz, chief of the criminal division under Reilly, informed the archdiocese that prosecutors needed more information about past and present policies on the handling of allegations of sexual abuse of children by priests. Schwartz also is negotiating with the archdiocese to interview members of the hierarchy in the presence of State Police detectives.

Schwartz and three detectives attended a press conference Monday when a lawyer for some of Shanley's alleged victims, Roderick MacLeish Jr., released 818 pages of documents showing how Law and other church officials ignored complaints about Shanley. The archdiocese paid out settlements to Shanley's victims, and allowed him to move to a parish in California and a church-run guest house in New York City without warning anyone about Shanley's abusive past.

Prosecutors were miffed that the archdiocese had not turned over all of the documents about Shanley as part of an agreement to give prosecutors information about nearly 90 priests accused of sexual abuse over the last 50 years. Prosecutors didn't get a look at some incriminating documents until yesterday, including a March 3, 1999, letter from Rev. William F. Murphy, a top aide to Law, in which Murphy told Shanley ''there won't be further action taken against you'' despite fresh allegations of abuse.

In a letter from California to a Chancery official in October 1997, Shanley wrote, ''Thank the cardinal for his long suffering in my behalf,'' before adding, ''If you need to stash a priest, I could probably help.''

In separate interviews yesterday, Essex District Attorney Kevin M. Burke, president of the state district attorney's association, and retired Superior Court Judge Robert Barton said their initial reading of the documents on Shanley led them to believe that criminal charges against Law and other church leaders were not as far-fetched as they had first thought.

Burke said he was shocked by some of the correspondence.

''Those revelations rank among the most chilling I've seen because of the lack of concern they show for the victims,'' said Burke. ''There is no explanation that can be offered to me for the cardinal's conduct that is acceptable.''

Reilly said he found the disclosures ''reprehensible, almost beyond belief.''

''There may not be a criminal solution'' to the supervision of abusive priests, Reilly said, ''but I guarantee there will be a system to prevent this from ever happening again.''

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said she is weighing criminal charges against Shanley for his alleged abuse of Gregory Ford, who says he was molested by Shanley between 1983 and 1989 in Newton.

''Up to this point, prosecutors agreed there was little in the way of proof of accessory or obstruction of justice, but the Shanley stuff comes much closer to crossing the line. You need a full analysis. Knowing Tom [Reilly] and Martha [Coakley], they'll put a bunch of people in a room for the analysis that's needed,'' said Burke.

A spokesman for Coakley declined to comment, saying, ''this is the subject of an ongoing investigation.'' But in a lengthy interview last Friday, before the Shanley disclosures, Coakley said she had not seen any evidence so far to suggest that either Law or others who supervised sexually abusive priests were criminally liable.

Norfolk District Attorney William R. Keating yesterday said his office had ''considered whether we could bring appropriate criminal charges against individuals at the archdiocese who knew about these acts. We determined, based upon the information we had here in Norfolk County, and the statute of limitations, that we would be unable to do that.''

Barton, who now teaches at New England School of Law, said he believed the Shanley documents ''get you close to the line on either conspiracy or accessory before [a crime], but that's only if you can show criminal intent. Conspiracy is what they should be looking at.''

Barton said prosecutors had not done enough to determine whether there was criminal intent on the part of Law or other supervisors.

''You could go to a grand jury. But no prosecutor wants to take on the cardinal,'' said Barton.

Prosecutors, however, rejected suggestions that they were being deferential to the church in general and the cardinal specifically.

''If we had the statutes'' to prosecute the cardinal and other church leaders, ''I'd do it,'' said Coakley. ''I know Tom [Reilly] would, too.''

Reilly and Burke also rejected claims that they and other prosecutors were not being as tough on the church as they would be on any other organization that had covered up the criminal actions of its members.

While much of the focus on potential criminal charges has been on whether Law and his bishops and aides facilitated the abuse of children by failing to act against alleged abusers like Shanley, or by transferring known pedophiles like the defrocked priest John Geoghan from parish to parish, Reilly confirmed yesterday that his civil rights division is also involved in the investigation.

Reilly declined to elaborate, but other lawyers said the state's civil rights statute is so broadly drawn that Reilly's office could bring charges against Law and other church leaders on the grounds that their actions violated the civil rights of children.

Wendy Murphy, a law lecturer and attorney who represents victims of sexual abuse, said the civil rights statute is ''broad and sweeping, one of the broadest in the country.''

Murphy said she also believed conspiracy charges against Shanley's supervisors were possible.

''In the Geoghan case, Geoghan was using his collar to molest kids and the church went to great lengths to cover this up. Shanley used the church to create a support system so he could molest kids. That's the difference. The church facilitated his creating a web to molest children,'' she said.

Murphy said she also believed that federal racketeering charges were possible in the Shanley case. She noted that some attorneys in other states had tried unsuccessfully to bring civil charges under the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations act, or RICO, in church sex abuse cases.

But, she said, no one had ever had such incriminating documentation as was revealed in the Shanley case.

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 4/10/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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