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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

A church chastised

7/24/2003

MASSACHUSETTS Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, unable to prosecute against leaders of the Archdiocese of Boston for their connivance in the sexual abuse scandal, has produced a powerful moral indictment instead. Sean P. O'Malley, who will be installed as archbishop next week, ought to seek the guidance of the attorney general to make sure that priests never again prey on young people in the archdiocese.

Reilly released a report yesterday that explains in detail why he is not indicting Cardinal Bernard Law or other officials who for decades successfully kept the scandal out of the public eye. He found no evidence that these officials - in the words of the report - ''encouraged priests to abuse children, intended that priests would abuse children, intended to obstruct justice ... interfered with the testimony or role of a witness ... or entered into unlawful agreements.''

Law and the other officials may have sent an offender off for psychiatric treatment or moved him to a new parish, but they failed to ensure he would never harm a child again - by reporting him to the authorities, supervising him closely, or warning people in his parish about his past. Law and his subordinates put the reputation of the archdiocese and its priests above the protection of children.

In response to Globe reports revealing the extent of the scandal last year, the Legislature added the clergy to the list of professionals who must report credible suspicions of abuse. Reilly thinks this is a major step toward legal accountablity. We agree. The Legislature would be wise to increase the penalty for nonreporting, which is now merely a $1,000 fine at most. Reilly suggests a maximum $25,000 fine and 21/2 years in prison.

Reilly's report is especially valuable in detailing the halting efforts by Law and other officials to address the scandal. Law established a review panel in 1993, but church policy left much discretion to protect abusers. Reilly finds fault with the latest policy, announced in May, because the review board is still not independent of the archbishop.

The Vatican is wary of lay involvement, and this attitude may have influenced the latest approach. O'Malley has a mandate to resolve the scandal, however, and he ought to make sure the board is autonomous. And after a year or two in office, he should seek a review by the attorney general to make sure the policies are effective.

A prosecutor's decision against indictment is rarely accompanied by a report criticizing those who escaped prosecution. The sexual abuse scandal is of such magnitude that Reilly's action required a thorough explanation. His report constitutes the official assessment of the scandal by secular society. The archdiocese has been put on notice that if it does not reform itself, its top officials will from now on feel the full weight of the law.

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2003.
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