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Spotlight Report

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After grueling probe, AG frustrated but at peace with himself

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 7/24/2003

 Related stories
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Tom Reilly's voice yesterday was a mixture of indignation and resignation as he talked about the scandal that has engulfed the Catholic Church: He was furious, but there was only so much he could do.

For the Massachusetts attorney general, the clergy sexual abuse crisis represents an intersection of the personal and professional. He reacted to it as the state's top law enforcement official, who is charged with protecting the public.

But he also reacted to it viscerally, as a devout Catholic, taught by kind-hearted nuns in his native Springfield, who won admission to a Catholic university thanks to the intercession of a generous priest, and who, until he left for college, was expected to be home every night at 7 to kneel and say the rosary with his parents.

That someone who grew up in such a time and place would convene a grand jury to seek criminal charges against Cardinal Bernard F. Law and other bishops who failed to prevent priests from abusing children spoke volumes about the cultural changes that are a legacy of the scandal.

''The age of deference is over,'' the attorney general said.

But the fact that some victims and their advocates would accuse Reilly of not doing enough also showed that the attorney general's attempt to put Law and other bishops in jail left him vulnerable to criticism.

At a news conference in the room where a grand jury heard more than 100 hours of testimony, Reilly admitted his attempt to prosecute Law, always a longshot, had been futile.

''If we could have, we would have,'' Reilly said.

In an interview, Reilly said he was ''frustrated, but at peace with myself about this. No one is more disappointed than I am that we can't bring criminal charges. But I can look myself in the mirror and know I took my best shot. More importantly, I can look the victims in the eye and know that. This was worth the effort, if only to show them we care.''

Reilly said victims have approached him regularly at public gatherings, encouraging him to press the investigation, despite its remote chances of success. One man who approached him had blamed himself for the abuse for 20 years. The man said he never came forward with allegations, but urged Reilly to keep the pressure on Law.

''Those kind of people kept me going,'' Reilly said.

Still, some victims' advocates accuse Reilly of being all talk and no action. Some gathered outside his office Tuesday in anticipation of yesterday's announcement, questioning Reilly's assertion that Massachusetts law did not allow for the prosecution of Law and others for negligent supervision.

''I understand their frustration, and I share it,'' Reilly said of victims.

From the start, Reilly has been a hovering influence in the scandal, interjecting himself regularly to prod the cardinal or the archdiocese to shift their positions. He said he felt sick to his stomach when he read the initial Boston Globe Spotlight Team reports in January 2002 about the extent of sexual abuse by priests and the archdiocese's attempt to keep the scandal hidden.

When Law responded to those initial reports by saying any future allegations of sexual abuse would be turned over to authorities, Reilly challenged the cardinal publicly, the first elected official to do so. Reilly also demanded records of past allegations, saying duly elected prosecutors, not prelates, should be deciding who gets investigated.

Reilly continued to dog the cardinal, demanding records from the archdiocese that eventually revealed that allegations of sexual abuse had been made against 237 priests since 1940, including 48 during Law's watch.

But convening a grand jury with the express intent of filing criminal charges raised the stakes considerably for Reilly. Even as they insisted they had a responsibility to leave no legal avenue unexplored, Reilly and his top aides worried the grand jury probe would build expectations for criminal charges. The sheer length of the 16-month probe heightened anticipation.

Reilly threw more resources at the case than any other criminal matter his office has pursued, according to Kurt Schwartz, chief of the criminal bureau. There were 11 prosecutors, 10 State Police officers, six civilian investigators, and two paralegals working on it. In the end, Reilly said, they were thwarted by the accessory and conspiracy laws in Massachusetts that require evidence showing that alleged accomplices share the criminal intent of those they enable and assist.

William Donohue, the president of the New York-based Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights, accused Reilly of grandstanding. In a statement yesterday, Donohoe compared Reilly to Ken Starr, the special prosecutor who dogged President Clinton.

''Whenever the outcome is preordained, prosecutors should back off and not let their greed for PR get the best of them,'' said Donohoe.

Reilly won't apologize for trying to make the case against the cardinal. But, speaking to reporters, he sought to stress the difference between the bishops he targeted and the faith to which he remains loyal.

''I stand before you as attorney general. But I am also a Catholic. I am proud to be a Catholic. This is not about my faith. And this is not about my religion. The Catholic faith and the Catholic religion teaches and values the basic sense of right and wrong. The Catholic faith and the Catholic religion values and teaches to protect the most vulnerable, particularly our children. Now this is not about the Catholic faith, the Catholic religion. This is about a massive inexcusable failure of leadership in the Archdiocese of Boston. That leadership is about to change. One of the reasons I decided this report must be issued now is my hope this report will draw a clear line between the past and a hopeful future.''

In an interview, Reilly disclosed that Law asked to see him last February after he testified before the grand jury. Reilly said he and Law spoke for about 30 minutes. He declined to say what they discussed, or Law's demeanor.

''I listened to what he had to say,'' said Reilly. Asked if they shook hands, Reilly said he couldn't remember.

Asked if he called Law by the prelate's preferred title, ''His Eminence,'' Reilly smiled, shook his head and asked back, ''What do you think?''

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2003.
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