The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Loyal bishops seen drawing new focus

By Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

They were loyal bishops helping their cardinal in the gentle handling of sexually abusive priests. And as they fanned out across the country to lead dioceses of their own, some allegedly continued the common practice of the Boston archdiocese: forgiving the accused while concealing their misdeeds.

Now, with Law's resignation, survivors of abuse and others who have followed the scandal in the Catholic Church say attention is likely to shift to Law's former deputies and other bishops who have tolerated abuse.

''The fear of the Vatican has always been that if Law resigns there would be a domino effect, not only among his auxiliaries but also among other bishops who didn't do what they should have done with abusive priests,'' said Thomas J. Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America.

Law himself has said in pretrial testimony that he often relied on subordinates in dealing with priests accused of sexual misconduct. And two of those subordinates have already drawn public anger and the attention of law enforcement authorities for their handling of abusive clerics in Boston and in their own dioceses.

Bishop John B. McCormack, a top deputy to Law as recently as 1998, narrowly escaped a criminal indictment of his Manchester, N.H. diocese earlier this week by signing a legal agreement to release thousands of pages of church records on abusive priests.

At an emotional news conference yesterday, alleged clergy abuse victims repeatedly called on McCormack to follow Law's lead and resign. ''Bishop McCormack, we're coming after you,'' said Gary Bergeron, an alleged victim of the late Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, who was reassigned to parish work despite numerous complaints made directly to McCormack.

Bishop Thomas V. Daily, a top assistant to Law in the mid-1980s and the leader of the Brooklyn diocese, had to be prodded by law enforcement officials into suspending an accused pastor earlier this year. Daily, 75, has submitted a mandatory retirement letter to Pope John Paul II.

And survivors of abuse say that leaders of the nation's largest and second-largest archdioceses - cardinals Roger Mahony of Los Angeles and Edward Egan of New York - are also likely to draw increased scrutiny in the wake of Law's resignation.

''If it weren't for the shadow cast by what's been happening in Boston I think there'd be much more heat on Mahony and Egan,'' said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.

In October, Mahony was sharply criticized by a local district attorney for his reluctance to relinquish church documents to a grand jury reviewing evidence of clerical abuse. Egan, meanwhile, has had to defend himself against accusations that he failed to remove sexually abusive clerics while the leader of the Bridgeport diocese.

Other, less prominent bishops may also draw increased attention. Earlier this month, Bishop Thomas O'Brien of the Phoenix diocese was singled out by a district attorney who cited evidence that O'Brien advised the families of victims to withhold information about sexual abuse from law enforcement. That could lead to obstruction of justice charges, the prosecutor said. Arizona state law includes clergy among a list of professionals required to report child sexual abuse to civil authorities.

Some officials directly involved in managing the clergy crisis do not believe that bishops other than Law are likely to resign any time soon.

''The circumstances surrounding Cardinal Law were special. It would be a terrible mistake if people used it as some sort of precedent,'' said Robert S. Bennett, a prominent attorney and a member of the National Review Board named by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to monitor compliance with their new policy for dealing with sexually abusive priests.

But survivors and their attorneys said that if the scandal in Boston appears to be an anomaly, it is only because Boston is the only place where legal action has led to the public disclosure of all church records on priests accused of sexual misconduct.

''People view Boston as an aberration because it's only in Boston that a courageous judge and some courageous survivors have persisted to the point where documents have been opened,'' Clohessy said, referring to orders issued by Superior Court Judge Constance M. Sweeney. ''If another judge in another diocese had acted in a similar manner, I think we'd be looking at the same situation elsewhere.''

The church records aired in Boston - through lawsuits filed against former priest John J. Geoghan and the Rev. Paul R. Shanley - have linked Law and six of his former bishops to the lax supervision of priests who were moved to new parishes after abuse was discovered. A seventh former aide, Bishop John A. D'Arcy of the Fort Wayne-South Bend diocese in Indiana, repeatedly questioned the assignments of troubled priests during his tenure in the Boston archdiocese, the records show.

In addition to McCormack and Daily, the bishops associated with Law's oversight of abusive priests include William F. Murphy of the Rockville Centre diocese in New York, Daniel A. Hart of the Norwich, Conn. diocese, Alfred C. Hughes of the New Orleans archdiocese, and Robert J. Banks of the Green Bay, Wis. diocese.

Murphy was directly involved in the supervision of defrocked priest Paul J. Mahan before leaving for Rockville Centre last year. He recently handed over church files on abusive priests in his Long Island diocese to a Nassau County grand jury.

Hart, a regional bishop under Law before leaving Boston in 1996, was a supervisor of Rev. Anthony J. Rebeiro, a suspended priest accused of sexually assaulting a female parishioner.

Hughes, who was named bishop of the Green Bay diocese in 1990, played a role in the oversight of Boston priest James D. Foley, who fathered two children with a woman who later died of a drug overdose.

And it was Banks who arranged to tone down an unfavorable psychological evaluation of Geoghan before the pedophile priest was transferred to a Weston parish, despite credible allegations that he had molested several boys.

''They were all number twos,'' said Mitchell Garabedian, an attorney for victims of Geoghan and other abusive priests. ''Any leader of the church who had a role in the sexual molestation of innocent children should follow the example of Law and resign.''

Kathleen Burge and Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
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