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Archdiocese sets misconduct rules

Review board to examine sexual abuse of minor

By David Arnold, Globe Staff, 1/15/1993

In 1992, the Rev. James R. Porter case in Fall River brought the problem of clergy abuse into the open.  
Coverage of the Porter case
he Archdiocese of Boston yesterday published a detailed pastoral policy to explain how an independent review board and delegates of the archbishop will respond to allegations of archdiocesan clergy sexual misconduct with minors.

"The policy attempts to respect both the nature of the Church and the legal requirements of society," Cardinal Bernard Law explained in introductory remarks for the policy, which was developed over several months. It was printed in a four-page section of this week's Pilot, the Archdiocese publication, and received a guardedly favorable review from Roderick MacLeish Jr., the Boston attorney representing more than 70 alleged victims of James Porter, a former Roman Catholic priest.

"On the whole, not bad," MacLeish said.

He was pleased with a stipulation that two lay persons serve with a nine- member board that will review cases brought before it. Such a board "ensures there will never again be another Father Porter," he said.

But one of several aspects of the policy troubling MacLeish is that during early phases of an abuse investigation, the matter stays entirely within the church. And regardless of how compassionate and sincere the initial investigation, MacLeish said, some victims will not come forward "if they know their first contact will be with someone wearing a collar or nun's habit."

The policy embellished a program described by Cardinal Law last November during a Globe interview. At that point, he said planners were on the "ninth, going on a tenth draft" of a sexual misconduct policy that would include the review panel.

The key features in the draft -- which Cardinal Law emphasized can be changed as practice sees fit -- include the following procedures in the event of sexual misconduct charges:

- An alleged victim may telephone either of two representatives of the archbishop appointed for the task -- Rev. John B. McCormack or Sister Catherine E. Mulkerrin, CSJ -- at (617) 254-0100, ext. 142. Complaints may be forwarded directly to the archbishop.

- A victim will be offered psychological and spiritual support services. The accused cleric will be contacted, but only with the alleged victim's permission, and an investigation by one of the archbishop's delegates will follow.

- If the allegation involves civil and/or criminal procedures, the vicar for administration will meet with the cleric to discuss what type of assistance he needs. If the delegate doubts the truth of the allegation, and if the public has already gotten wind of the case, "appropriate steps will be taken to repair damage to the cleric's reputation."

Lawyers read this as defamation of character. -- All allegations, regardless of a delegate's initial finding, end up before a review board whose membership includes a civil lawyer. The board then makes a recommendation to the archbishop, which can range from dropping the matter to resignation from the ministry. The board's role is consultative; the ultimate course of action rests with the archbishop.

"The Archdiocese is committed to do all it can to ensure that children being served by the Church are not placed at risk," Cardinal Law wrote. "We pledge to report such incidents to civil authorities in accordance with the law."

But MacLeish said Massachusetts law does not require allegations of sexual molestation of a minor by a priest to be reported.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 1/15/1993.
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