The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Law has draft of abuse policy

By Kevin Cullen and Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 6/8/2002

The commission charged with improving the way the Archdiocese of Boston handles sexually abusive priests gave Cardinal Bernard F. Law a draft report to take to next week's US bishops conference in Dallas, but said the final report expected yesterday will be delayed until September so the panel can consult victims' groups and others.

Maureen S. Bateman called the 22-page document released yesterday ''a very advanced draft'' but said the 12-member commission and the cardinal agreed that it needs comment from various constituencies, including victims of sexual abuse and their advocates, before it can be finalized.

''Finalization to us at this point depends upon circulation of this draft and the feedback that will be returned to us,'' said Bateman, who is general counsel to State Street Corp.

Bateman said the commission will circulate the draft to victims' groups, parish councils, archdiocese officials, the Department of Social Services, and prosecutors. She said the commission hopes to get the reaction of those groups by July 15 and will meet July 30 to consider the responses. She said the panel will issue its final report Sept. 6.

Yesterday's draft mirrored a preliminary report issued by the commission last month, which called for a zero-tolerance policy toward sexually abusive priests, turning their cases over to police, and enhancing the voice of the laity. But it included three new recommendations: a code of conduct that specifically describes inappropriate forms of physical conduct and unsupervised activities between clergy, staff, and children; disclosure to future employers of information about clergy, staff, or volunteers who have sexually abused children; and more comprehensive education for children, parents, and parishes, with a specified training program required for staff volunteers, and annual training for priests, deacons, and religious.

Law met with the commission in a library on the grounds of his Brighton estate just hours after he was deposed in a civil case alleging he negligently supervised a priest accused of raping a Newton boy. Law refused to take questions, but issued a statement saying, ''I agree substantially with the report's extensive recommendations, a number of which the archdiocese has already begun to implement.''

Law praised the commission, which he appointed in March, for ''an incredible amount of work ... in a short period of time'' and said the draft ''will help in my participation'' in Dallas.

''The commission's draft is essentially consistent with, although in a number of areas more explicit and extensive than, the recently released draft documents of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops,'' Law said. ''I embrace the commission's strong recommendation for a zero tolerance policy with no exceptions.''

Bateman said the commission's one-strike-and-you're-out policy is the key difference between its recommendations and those presented by a committee of the Conference of Bishops. Bateman said Law will ''be a very good advocate for the principles that we have in the report that may be at variance to what the bishops' conference has released recently.''

She said the cardinal ''really wanted to have something that was bulletproof as far as protecting children and certainly what the bishops come up with will be very good, but he wanted one for the archdiocese of Boston.

''And he wanted it perhaps to be an example for the rest of the country. Now maybe it won't be. Maybe it will be. Whether it is or it isn't that's all right, but we want it to be the best for Boston.''

Bateman said there were no fundamental divisions that prevented the committee from issuing the final report expected yesterday.

''There really weren't substantive differences. Everybody agreed with sort of the head notes, shall I say, but then when it came to the subtext, and how to express it, there were many different opinions,'' she said.

Asked if the report expected to emerge from Dallas will overshadow her commission's work, Bateman said, ''Absolutely not. As a matter of fact, we like our report better than what we've read there. ... The cardinal is bringing it with him. He himself said he is much more in line with our view of zero tolerance than the bishops' report, which says if you've had one incident of sexual abuse prior to this time, you still have a chance. Our report doesn't allow that.''

The Globe reported yesterday that Law had in 1993 rebuffed a group of specialists on sexual abuse whom he had consulted, saying their recommendation to implement a zero-tolerance policy and report sexually abusive priests would violate canon law. But Bateman said while removing someone from the priesthood raised issues relevant to canon law, removing a priest from access to children and reporting him to civil authorities did not.

''Civil law would supersede canon law,'' she said.

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 6/8/2002.
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