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Spotlight Report

Diocese will report ex-priests

Law reverses policy on cases of child abuse

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 1/25/2002

 Transcript
Diocese will report priests
Transcript of press conference
Editorial: Cardinal Law's response
Cardinal Bernard F. Law yesterday announced that the Archdiocese of Boston will give state officials a list of names of every former priest who sexually abused a minor, reversing his previous opposition to retroactive reporting of clergy misconduct.

Law said he has decided to report pedophilia retroactively because he now realizes that pedophiles, even though no longer working as priests, may still pose a danger to children. Law made his announcement one day after the archdiocesan lawyer met with Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who had criticized the cardinal's previous decision to require reporting only future cases of clergy sexual abuse.

"As I reflect on this whole issue, from the perspective of the child, I believe that everything that can possibly be done to protect a child from that kind of abuse must be done," Law said at his second news conference on clergy sexual abuse in two weeks.

"I have done that by removing people from assignments, but they [the abusers] still exist, and they still exist with that problem, and I don't have police powers," he said. "So I feel a closure on this loop, that brings me a great deal of peace, that we are doing absolutely everything we can possibly do, not only in terms of people who are working in the church, but [also] people who continue to have a very profound problem."

Law did not say when or how he would report past allegations of sexual misconduct by priests, or how he would decide which allegations of sexual abuse had been substantiated enough to warrant reporting to authorities. He had opposed retroactive reporting, he said, because victims had been promised confidentiality when approaching church officials, and he said he still wants to ensure that the method "respects the confidentiality of the victims."

Law said he "can't say" how many priests have been accused of sexual abuse, but he reiterated his assertion that "there is no priest known to us to have been guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor holding any position in this archdiocese."

Reilly welcomed Law's move, but said he would wait to see if the cardinal follows through, because "this is an issue that requires action."

"When it comes to abuse of kids, there should be no exceptions," Reilly said. "I don't care if you are a member of the clergy. All incidents need to be reported -- past, present, and future. The only thing that matters is the protection of children."

State Senator Cheryl A. Jacques, a Needham Democrat who is sponsoring legislation that would require clergy to report allegations of sexual abuse, also praised the cardinal's change of heart.

"It's very good news to see a religious leader embrace reporting all child abuse, past and present, and I hope all religious leaders embrace that position," she said. "The true test of the sincerity will be whether they are willing to advocate for passage of this in the House of Representatives."

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously passed a measure that would require clergy to report past and current allegations of child abuse, except when the clergy learn about such allegations during confession or other one-on-one confidential communication. Violators of the mandatory reporting law can be punished with a $1,000 fine.

The cardinal also said yesterday that he has enlisted the deans of the medical schools of Boston University, Harvard, Tufts, and the University of Massachusetts, as well as the dean of Boston College's social work school and a prominent Harvard psychiatrist, to make up a panel to advise him on establishing what Law called "an interdisciplinary center for the prevention of sexual abuse of children."

He said he would ask that panel, to be headed by Dr. Michael F. Collins, head of the archdiocesan hospital system, or a second panel of national experts on sexual abuse of children to help the archdiocese reach out to victims of clergy sexual abuse and to parishes and schools affected by sexual abuse and to review the archdiocese's process of screening applicants for the priesthood.

Law made his comments at a news conference at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, following the third two-day assembly of priests held in the archdiocese since 1990.

Media coverage of the event was tightly controlled. The archdiocese refused to allow reporters to attend any part of the event, and security officers assisting the archdiocese prevented photographers from taking pictures of priests inside the hotel, and then physically barred a Globe photographer from taking a picture of Law talking on a sidewalk with a man who said he is a victim of clergy sexual abuse.

Law told reporters he does not believe the archdiocese is in crisis, but that "it's a very difficult moment" for the church. Law has apologized several times in the weeks since the Globe's Spotlight team detailed how the archdiocese continued to employ John J. Geoghan as a priest for years even while knowing that Geoghan was a child molester.

Geoghan has been accused in civil suits of molesting at least 130 young boys, and many of the suits accuse Law of failing to prevent some of the abuse by reassigning Geoghan. Law said he reassigned Geoghan based on advice from doctors that he now says he should not have accepted.

Law, who on Wednesday told the assembled priests that he does not plan to step down over his handling of the Geoghan case, yesterday told reporters that no church officials or priests have asked him to resign. Instead, he said, he has received "support and affirmation" in his current handling of the issue from the apostolic nuncio, who is the pope's emissary to the United States, from a number of his fellow bishops, and from the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Law said he does not believe his own resignation is the solution because, "You don't walk away when the problem is difficult. That's when you need to be together."

Law, who has apologized repeatedly for his handling of Geoghan, used the most direct and active language yet to describe his own conduct and how he believes he erred.

"I made a mistake in assigning John Geoghan," he said. "I regret that assignment, and I have attempted to learn from that mistake in the development of a policy moving foward that focuses all of our energies on the protection of children."

But Law rejected any assertion that the archdiocese's handling of the Geoghan case, which included numerous letters from church officials expressing support for the priest, reflected a past lack of concern for victims.

The letters were among documents obtained by the Globe under court order over the objection of the archdiocese.

"I believe our policy, and the way that policy was implemented, was indeed concerned with the victims," he said. "That's precisely why priests were removed to begin with, why they were evaluated, why they were sent to treatment. But at the end of the day, what I now see is that the recommendation that someone could be put back in ministry is a recommendation that should never be followed."

Law declined to judge Geoghan's ministry, saying that was up to God, and declined to characterize his own feelings about Geoghan.

"How I felt is not really the issue here -- the issue here is how are we attempting to deal with this problem," he said.

And the cardinal defended his decision to pray for Geoghan.

"I pray for all sorts of people," he said. "Jesus says, `Pray for those who persecute you,' and that's the way we're supposed to live our lives."

Walter V. Robinson contributed to this report

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 1/25/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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