The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Why won't Law back disclosing past sex abuse?

By Derrick Z. Jackson, Globe Columnist, 1/18/2002

The question by Thomas Reilly and Kevin Burke was reasonable. Cardinal Law answered with more abuse. Seeing his reputation go up in flames over the massive cases of pedophilia by former priest John Geoghan, Law announced a new policy where future instances of sexual abuse must be reported to law enforcement officials. But for all of his apologies and claims of having a "grieving heart," Law said nothing about past incidents that the church knows about.

Reilly, the state attorney general, and Burke, the Essex district attorney, rightfully jumped on that omission. They said Law should also mandate the reporting of any past allegations of abuse. "Given what's happened here, the church should err on the side of complete disclosure on the issue of the abuse of children," Reilly said. "There shouldn't be a free pass on anything when it comes to the sexual abuse of children."

Burke said, "I don't think you can put a deadline date on this, or draw a line in the sand and say that people victimized before a certain date shouldn't receive proper treatment by the system and by health care professionals."

Law said there will be no mandated reporting of the past. Law's spokeswoman, Donna Morrissey, claimed that it would be "inappropriate today to breach the confidentiality agreement that victims relied upon before making their decisions to seek help from the archdiocese."

This is an insult to the intelligence. First of all, the Globe's Spotlight Team has written that the church says nothing about confidentiality agreements in current policy. Second, it was the archdiocese's abuse of "confidentiality" that landed them in the Geoghan mess. Geoghan moved from parish to parish for over 30 years, according to Spotlight's reporting, precisely because parents or relatives of abused children were told to shut up. Geoghan moved without question to one parish because the archdiocese, in its "confidentiality," did not tell that parish about Geoghan's past.

That kind of "confidentiality" has got to go, along with Law.

There is no reason to trust a clandestine cardinal who also abused the medical profession, turning specious examinations of Geoghan into the Gospel. The only leg Law has been standing on to justify how he could assign Geoghan to and keep him at St. Julia's parish in Weston from 1984 to 1993 were medical reports by two doctors that said he was "fully recovered" and that there was "no psychiatric contraindication" to Geoghan being a priest.

But as Spotlight reported, one doctor was a general practitioner, not a psychiatrist. The other doctor was a psychiatrist. But the psychiatrist had more experience being accused of sex offenses than treating sex offenders. In 1977, three years before telling Law that Geoghan was fit for duty, the psychiatrist was sued for sexual molestation by a woman who eventually forced a settlement of $100,000.

If that is not discrediting enough for Law, there is his feigning of ignorance. Last week, Law said he wished he knew more about pedophilia than he did in 1984. He said, "I didn't have the knowledge, the experience with this issue, the wisdom of time, that I have now. Should I have had? You're free to make that judgment if you wish. But in fact, I didn't."

He had plenty of knowledge. In 1985, Law was in the vanguard of bishops who originally supported the writing of a 92-page report on pedophilia for the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Contrary to whom Law was relying on at home -- a doctor who was not a psychiatrist and a psychiatrist who turned out to be accused of sex offenses -- one of the authors of the report was the late Rev. Michael Peterson, a psychiatrist and president of the St. Luke Institute in Suitland. Peterson clinically treated priests who sexually abused children.

The report came at a time that a priest was found to have molested 35 boys in Louisiana. The report said, there was "no hope at this point in time for a cure." It said, "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 urged the church to come out of its clandestine cave, warning that "in this sophisticated society, a media policy of silence implies either necessary secrecy or coverup." The national conference buried the report. Law fled back to his cave of crackpots and covered up the entrance with the stone of silence. Thirty of the alleged 130 cases of abuse by Geoghan occurred after Law assigned Geoghan to St. Julia's.

With that, Law should lose all benefit of the doubt. The only way to remove it is to remove him and let someone else come in who not only pledges to snuff out abuse in the future, but sniff for any lingering cases where tortured victims suffer in the purgatory constructed by the cowardice of their cardinal.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 1/18/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

For complete coverage of the priest abuse scandal, go to