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Excerpts from attorney general's report on clergy sexual abuse

7/24/2003

Excerpts from Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's opening remarks as he issued his report on sexual abuse by clergy in the Boston Archdiocese, and from the report itself:

Opening remarks:

In early January 2002, Cardinal Law, under pressure from the media, announced that in the future the archdiocese would report future allegations of clergy sexual abuse to law enforcement. I, along with others, questioned why wasn't he reporting past allegations. Knowing what we know now, he [Law] was still trying in January of 2002 to preserve the secrecy of the past, and that is what caused us to set out to find the truth: What happened, why it happened, and what needs to be done so that something of this magnitude never ever happens again. What we have found, what we have learned, and what we have documented through this investigation borders, as I said before, on the unbelievable. The duration of it -- six decades of sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic clergy -- the magnitude of it is simply staggering.

By the archdiocese's own numbers -- this comes from their records -- 789 victims have come forward and made accusations of sexual abuse by church members, or church clergy. And I have no doubt . . . I have absolutely no doubt that the number is far greater. There are people who to this day cannot come forward, there are people to this day who cannot deal with the trauma of what has happened to them when they were children. There is no question in my mind that this number is far more than their records, but by their records, their own records, the number is staggering.

Equally staggering are the number of clergy who have been accused of the sexual abuse of children -- 237 -- and 13 other workers in the church for a total of 250. That is again a staggering number.

As attorney general, our focus was on the leadership of the archdiocese and the senior management of the archdiocese when this occurred. And no one is more disappointed than I and my staff that we cannot bring criminal charges against top management. We worked hard at this and we tried, and if we could have, we would have. But the bottom line [is] that the laws in existence at the time that these events occurred do not permit us to initiate criminal charges. You could say this, that if the conduct what happened in the past would have happened in the past year with the laws that the Legislature passed last year, it would be a far different story today.

The conduct of the leadership and senior management, while not criminal, was absolutely deplorable. Any claim that the cardinal or senior management didn't know what was going on is simply not credible. They knew full well that children were being sexually abused. Yet time after time, decision after decision, when they were tested, when they were forced and faced with the choice between protecting children and protecting the reputation of the church and the priest abusers, they chose secrecy, and they chose to protect the church at the expense of children. In effect, they sacrificed children for many, years.

From the report

* On the number of victims and abusive priests:

According to the archdiocese's own files, 789 victims have complained of sexual abuse by members of the clergy; the actual number of victims is no doubt much higher. The evidence to date also reveals that 250 priests and church workers stand accused of acts of rape or sexual assault of children. This widespread assault on children has occurred for at least six decades under the administration of three successive archbishops; clearly this massive assault is the responsibility of no one person or administration. The facts learned over the past 18 months describe one of the greatest tragedies to befall children in this Commonwealth. Perhaps most tragic of all, much of the harm could have been prevented.

* On the history of abuse policy:

Prior to 1993, the archdiocese did not have written policies on handling complaints of clergy sexual abuse of children. Nonetheless, the practice within the archdiocese was that complaints of clergy sexual abuse of children were communicated through informal channels to a very small number of senior archdiocese managers at the chancery and ultimately to the cardinal. These complaints were often communicated orally, but sometimes in writing, and often using vague language that omitted pertinent details.

* On the role of the seminaries:

Approximately 110 of the 237 priests alleged to have sexually abused children since 1946 graduated from the archdiocese's principal seminary, St John's Seminary, located on the grounds of the chancery in Brighton; two others graduated from another archdiocesan seminary, Blessed XXIII National Seminary in Weston. Despite evidence that a large number of abusive priests graduated from St John's Seminary between 1949 and 1990, there was no evidence that the archdiocese at any time undertook a comprehensive analysis of possible systemic causes of the abuse and whether there was a causal relationship between the prevalence of abuse, the type of candidates attracted to the priesthood, and the archdiocese's policy and practices for recruiting and screening applicants to the seminary.

* On the church's current commitment to reform:

The staggering magnitude of the problem would have alerted any reasonable, responsible manager that immediate and decisive measures must be taken. The archdiocese has yet to demonstrate an appropriate sense of urgency for attacking the problem of sexual abuse or for changing its culture to remove the risk to children. The archdiocese's response over the past 18 months to the public disclosure of the long history of clergy sexual abuse of children demonstrates an insufficient commitment to (1) determining the systemic causes of clergy abuse; (2) removing priests and other archdiocese workers who committed such serious crimes against children and holding them accountable for their actions; (3) addressing its failure to prevent sexual abuse of children; (4) full information sharing and cooperation with state law enforcement authorities concerning suspicion or allegations of clergy sexual abuse of children; (5) taking adequate steps to ensure children are not sexually abused in the future.

* On what Cardinal Law knew:

There is overwhelming evidence that for many years Cardinal Law and his senior managers had direct, actual knowledge that substantial numbers of children in the archdiocese had been sexually abused by substantial numbers of its priests. Members of the cardinal's senior management team received complaints of abuse; determined the archdiocese's response to the complaints; determined the approval for their actions; and conferred with the cardinal and sought his approval of their recommendations. Any claim by the cardinal or the archdiocese senior managers that they did not know of the abuse suffered by, or the continuing threat to, children in the archdiocese is simply not credible. Senior archdiocese managers were advised of allegations of child sexual abuse against Father Joseph Birmingham in 1964, 1970, and again in 1987; Senior managers were aware of abuse allegations involving Father Burns as early as 1982; in 1984, Father Eugene O'Sullivan was convicted of the rape of a child; allegations of sexual abuse by Father Richard Coughlin were presented to senior archdiocese managers in 1985; allegations of sexual abuse of children by Father Robert Gale in the 1970s and early 1980s were provided to senior archdiocese managers in 1979, 1981, 1983, 1987, 1992, and 1994. In 1988, senior archdiocese managers were made aware that Father Daniel Graham had engaged in the sexual abuse of a child.

*On one glimmer of hope: Sister Mulkerrin:

Sister Catherine Mulkerrin joined what would soon become formally known as the Office of the Delegate on August 3, 1992. Her job responsibilities revolved around victim issues, and in particular providing a ''pastoral response'' to victims. From the outset, Sister Mulkerrin was shocked by the extent of the problem. Soon after she arrived, she began keeping lists of priests against whom sexual abuse allegations were made. During her two years in the Office of the Delegate, Sister Mulkerrin's list grew to more than 100 different names, including both archdiocesan priests and religious order clerics that worked within the archdiocese. She repeatedly urged Bishop McCormack to use parish bulletins to both alert parishioners whenever the archdiocese determined that a present or former priest of the parish may have sexually abused a child, and to provide contact information in the event that other parishioners had questions or wanted to report abuse. Her repeated requests to meet with parishioners were rejected.

* On what should come next:

It is not enough for the Archdiocese of Boston to simply declare a commitment to the protection of children. The archdiocese must live that commitment through its policies and demonstrated practices. Only when the archdiocese makes all of these child protection practices a part of its everyday dealings will there exist reliable indicators to declare with confidence that the children within the archdiocese are safe. For years, deference was afforded to the archdiocese when it came to the protection of children. In many ways, that climate allowed these abuses to continue unchecked for so long. Should there be any deference in the future, let it be to the notion that the protection of children comes before all else, and to the proposition that abuse of this kind against children must never happen again.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2003.
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