The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


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In 1985, Law had report on repeat abusers

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 1/7/2002

Months after Cardinal Bernard F. Law's November 1984 decision to send the Rev. John J. Geoghan to St. Julia's parish in Weston, despite a record of sexually molesting boys, US bishops received a report that identified sexually abusive priests as likely repeat offenders with little chance of being cured.

``The recidivism rate for pedophilia is second only to exhibitionism, particularly for homosexual pedophilia,'' said the 92-page report, issued independently in 1985 by a trio of medical, legal, and church experts and delivered to the National Conference of Catholic Bishops that year.

At the time, Law was one of several bishops who encouraged the writing of the report, which urged the creation of a national crisis intervention team and warned that there was ``no hope at this point in time for a cure'' for priests who habitually molested minors.

The authors of the report were the late Rev. Michael Peterson, then a psychiatrist and president of Saint Luke Institute in Suitland, Md., which treated sexually abusive priests, the Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, secretary to the Vatican's US ambassador, and F. Ray Mouton, an attorney who had represented a Louisiana archdiocese in pedophelia cases.

The report did state that treatment could ``help rehabilitate clerics so that they may return to active ministry'' - but only under specific conditions and with lifelong treatment.

That treatment, the report said, should include a minimum six-month stay in a treatment facility, six-to-12 months of residence in a halfway house, and continuing treatment in an outpatient setting.

``Recidivism is so high with pedophilia . . . that all controlled studies have shown that traditional outpatient psychiatric or psychological models alone do not work,'' the report said.

Not until 1989 - after Geoghan was caught abusing more children - did Law's deputies order him to undergo approximately three months of treatment at two institutions. But even then, Law signed off on Geoghan's return to St. Julia's, where he continued to abuse children.

Last July, in defending his decision to send Geoghan to St. Julia's, Law left the impression that the church's awareness of how to deal with pedophile priests was newly acquired. ``I only wish that the knowledge that we have today had been available to us earlier,'' Law wrote in The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper.

But Law knew of the 1985 report to Catholic bishops, and other specialists have said that even in the 1970s, Catholic bishops were aware of growing complaints of clergy sexual abuse, and had been told that priests who molested children were afflicted with a serious mental illness.

Church officials shelved the 1985 report and ignored its recommendations, according to the Rev. Thomas Doyle, who cited Law's initial support for the production of the report. And in the Boston archdiocese, Law did not announce a policy for dealing with pedophile priests until January 1993, after more than 100 victims had come forward with evidence that former priest James Porter had sexually abused them in the Fall River archdiocese.

The 1985 report also recommended that the church do away with its practice of shrouding the problem of clergy sexual abuse in secrecy and instead take a more open approach when presented with questions from the news media.

``All tired and worn policies utilized by bureaucracies must be avoided and cliches such as `no comment' must be cast away,'' the report said. ``In this sophisticated society a media policy of silence implies either necessary secrecy or cover-up.''

Last week, in response to Globe requests for interviews on the Geoghan case, the archdiocese said it would take no questions.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 1/7/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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