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Spotlight Report

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AG says leaders stood in the way

Queries church's ability to move beyond 'secrecy'

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 7/24/2003


The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, said church officials plan to carefully review the attorney general's findings before responding publicly. (Globe Staff Photo / Justin Kase Conder)

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AG's report, press conference
Statement from the archdiocese

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Abuse reports in archdiocese
Leaders who handled abuse
The cost of clergy sex abuse

Although church officials say they are committed to a new policy of openness in dealing with clergy sexual abuse, the report released yesterday by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly says they repeatedly threw up obstacles to state prosecutors investigating child sexual abuse by priests.

The report also raises questions about the ability and willingness of church officials to move beyond a ''culture of secrecy'' and address the abuse crisis directly. It criticized the child protection policies adopted by the archdiocese just two months ago.

''The archdiocese has yet to demonstrate an appropriate sense of urgency for attacking the problem of child sexual abuse or for changing its culture to remove the risk to children,'' Reilly said in the report. ''It is far too soon to know whether the archdiocese has undertaken the types of changes necessary to ensure that abuse has stopped and will not reoccur in the future.''

Reilly began investigating clergy sexual abuse at the request of five district attorneys in March 2002, and impaneled a grand jury to consider criminal charges against Cardinal Bernard F. Law and his assisting bishops only after months of foot-dragging and evasiveness by church officials.

In an appendix to his report, Reilly said he launched the grand jury probe ''because of the slow pace at which the archdiocese was producing records,'' and because of an outright refusal to turn over other documents, including the psychiatric records of accused priests, and correspondence between the archdiocese and the Vatican.

In addition, Reilly said crucial witnesses either refused to participate in voluntary interviews or insisted on conditions unacceptable to state investigators.

''We reached a point where we said, `We're not going to be able to accomplish our mission without a grand jury,' '' one official familiar with the investigation said in a Globe interview.

The same investigator said it was not clear whether the resistance originated with officials of the archdiocese or with their lawyers, Wilson D. Rogers Jr. and J. Owen Todd, who served as Law's personal attorney.

The attorney general's report suggests that, without the special powers of a grand jury, much of what Reilly discovered about the breadth of clergy sexual abuse in the Boston archdiocese over the past six decades would have remained concealed from the public.

In March 2002, church documents released under a written agreement contained allegations that 69 living priests had abused 214 children.

But as of yesterday, after Reilly had issued 53 subpoenas for church records and compelled the sworn testimony of 31 witnesses, including Law, prosecutors had amassed allegations that 250 priests, religious brothers, and lay church employees had abused 789 children.

In his report, Reilly also called the child protection policies approved by the Boston Archdiocese on May 30, one day before a deadline set by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, a ''disappointment'' unlikely to provide sufficient protection for children.

''The process protects priests at the expense of victims and . . . is incapable of leading to timely and appropriate responses to sex abuse allegations,'' Reilly said.

''It is essential that the archdiocese provide a rigorous investigation and discipline process that does not favor alleged abusive priests over their victims.''

Reilly's critique is consistent with the comments his office made immediately after the policies were approved in May. But in the report released yesterday, Reilly was more specific, saying the overall policy of the archdiocese ''demonstrates an insufficient commitment'' to: determining the causes of clergy sexual abuse, removing abusive priests and holding them accountable,addressing its own failure to prevent child sexual abuse, cooperating with law enforcement, and preventing future child sexual abuse.

''The May policy is a disappointment because, faced with both the history of pervasive and prolonged abuse and the willingness of many qualified persons and organizations to help, the archdiocese needlessly delayed in adopting new policies . . . and the policy adopted remains deficient,'' Reilly said.

In particular, Reilly faulted the investigative and disciplinary procedures created by the policy because they depend ''at all stages on the exercise of the archbishop's discretion.''

He also said that a lay review board established by the policy does not have true independence from the archdiocese. And he criticized church officials for omitting any commitment to monitor priests who have been credibly abused of sexually molesting children and removed from active ministry.

''Many are potentially dangerous to children in the communities where they live and work,'' Reilly said.

Comparing the Boston policies unfavorably with those recently adopted by the Washington D.C. Archdiocese, Reilly noted that the Boston program exempt bishops, set no penalties for violators, and do not explicitly require clergy and lay employees to abide by their provisions.

Summing up his critique at a news conference yesterday, Reilly said, the archdiocese ''has yet to demonstrate a commitment to children that is proportionate to the harm it has caused for decades.''

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