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Spotlight Report

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Law's lieutenants scorned in report

Information said to be concealed from authorities

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 7/24/2003

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AG's report, press conference
Statement from the archdiocese

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Abuse reports in archdiocese
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The cost of clergy sex abuse

Two months after the Rev. John R. Hanlon was arraigned in 1992 on charges that he raped an altar boy years before at a summer cottage in Scituate, one of Cardinal Bernard F. Law's top lieutenants learned something critical about the case that even police did not know.

And when police appealed directly to Bishop Alfred C. Hughes for help on the case, Hughes withheld the crucial information -- about another, more recent sexual allegation against the priest, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said in a report released yesterday.

Hughes, then Law's vicar for administration, ''became personally aware of another credible, but uncharged allegation of recent sexual abuse against Father Hanlon,'' Reilly said in the report.

''Moreover, as the case moved through the court system and Father Hanlon vigorously and publicly denied the allegation, Bishop Hughes authorized tens of thousands of dollars in church loans to finance Father Hanlon's defense -- a defense which fueled widespread, and ultimately misplaced, public support for Father Hanlon,'' the report states.

Hanlon's second accuser ultimately contacted authorities. But the information came too late to be used in the priest's first trial in 1993, which ended in a mistrial with a deadlocked jury. In a retrial five months later, at which the second victim testified, Hanlon, the former pastor of St. Paul's Church in Hingham, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

While Reilly reserved particular scorn for Law's role in the mushrooming scandal that forced the cardinal's resignation late last year, his report was nearly as tough yesterday on Law's top lieutenants, prelates who now preside at other US dioceses of their own.

The bishops, while under no legal obligation to report clergy sexual abuse, withheld or minimized or hedged critical information they had about priests' assaults on children even after police and prosecutors made direct appeals to them for help, Reilly said. ''Top archdiocesan officials, in response to reports of sexual abuse of children and aware of the magnitude of the sexual abuse problem, decided that they should conceal -- from the parishes, the laity, law enforcement, and the public -- their knowledge of individual complaints of abuse and the long history of such complaints within the archdiocese,'' Reilly said.

Hughes, now archbishop of New Orleans, declined to comment yesterday through his spokesman, the Rev. William F. Maestri. He said Hughes and his staff were still reviewing Reilly's report.

Hughes, Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y., Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis., and Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., were subpoenaed before a Massachusetts grand jury late last year.

In his report on the investigation released yesterday, Reilly said the system of secrecy that Law abided was chiefly carried out by his subordinates who remained silent even in the face of pointed questions by investigators trying to determine the extent of the sexual abuse.

''With rare exception, none of the cardinal's senior managers advised him to take any of the steps that might have ended the systemic abuse of children,'' Reilly asserted in his report.

For example, when authorities opened a criminal investigation in February 1989 into allegations of sexual abuse by the Rev. John J. Geoghan, two therapists told them that they had reported the abuse to Banks. When investigators went to Banks in June 1989, he told them that Geoghan was headed for a six-month treatment program that summer.

But the bishop ''did not disclose that he was aware of prior sexual abuse complaints against Father Geoghan, that Geoghan previously had admitted sexually abusing children, and that Geoghan already had received a damning psychiatric evaluation,'' the report states.

Banks was also involved in the 1985 transfer of the Rev. Eugene M. O'Sullivan to the Metuchen, N.J., diocese after his guilty plea to a rape charge in Middlesex County. Reilly's report says Banks met with Middlesex County prosecutors and argued against his incarceration.

''Bishop Banks argued on O'Sullivan's behalf in these instances even though he knew, but failed to disclose, that O'Sullivan had abused other children and that the court was unaware of these other victims,'' the attorney general's report states.

Banks, in a statement, said ''while well-intentioned at the time, I deeply regret that I did not act more decisively in taking out of ministry those who abused our children and young people.''

Reilly said Daily ''had a clear preference for keeping priests who sexually abused children in pastoral ministry,'' transferring offenders from parish to parish.''

He criticized Murphy for helping to place the Rev. C. Melvin Surette in a job in the chancery office that supervised sexual offenders. ''The archdiocese documents relating to [Surette's] assignment do not show any consideration of the propriety of having a man accused of sexually abusing children significantly involved in finding suitable job placements for other alleged abusers,'' the report states.

And while he credited McCormack with instituting a new system in 1993 to try to monitor the restricted ministries of abusive priests, Reilly said McCormack blocked a subordinate's suggestion that the abusive priest's history be shared with parishes where they had served.

''There seems to be an inability on the part of Bishop McCormack to appreciate these people for what they are . . . and an inability to realize that these are criminal acts,'' Reilly told reporters. ''One of the most glaring defects was the failure to properly supervise people that he and church officials knew were dangerous and presented a risk to children.''

McCormack issued a statement that said he ''worked to improve the way complaints were handled by the archdiocese'' when he was in Boston. ''My desire to help heal everyone affected, and to protect children, continues today,'' he said. Frank DeRosa, a spokesman for Daily in Brooklyn, said that when the bishop worked in Boston ''he followed procedures that he believed were appropriate.''

In Rockville Centre, Murphy's office also issued a statement that said he testified before the Massachusetts grand jury ''and answered all questions honestly and to the best of his ability. . . . [He] is determined that issues raised in the Massachusetts grand jury report never be repeated under his jurisdiction.''

Reilly, questioned after his press conference yesterday, stopped short of asking for the bishops' resignation.

''I think that every church official that was involved with what has happened here should certainly reexamine the way that they have conducted themselves,'' he said.

Kevin Cullen of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Thomas Farragher can be reached at farragher@globe.com

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2003.
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