The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Many outraged, some cautious after Reilly's report

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 7/24/2003

Reaction to state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's blistering report on how the Boston archdiocese handled decades of sexual abuse allegations against priests was mixed yesterday, with widespread disagreement among alleged victims, lay Catholic reform groups, and attorneys suing the church over the report's significance and its potential impact.

The only real agreement was that the report, issued by the state's highest-ranking law enforcement officer, will carry little legal weight, since Reilly found that state laws preclude criminal prosecutions of church leaders and because legal specialists said yesterday that the report could not be used as evidence in the more than 500 civil claims filed against the church.

That left victims, advocates, and lawyers disagreeing over the report's impact outside the courts -- within the church hierarchy, with the incoming archbishop, Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, with practicing Catholics, and with the general public.

The scathing, 76-page report charged that a ''staggering'' number of people -- possibly 1,000 or more, -- were probably sexually abused by clergy in the last six decades and that there was an institutional acceptance of abuse'' within the archdiocese in that time. The abuse of children, the report charges, was ''so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable.''

''At this point, tough talk from a prosecutor is like soothing talk from a bishop -- neither alone keeps kids safe,'' said William Gately of Plymouth, cocoordinator of the sexual abuse survivor advocacy group SNAP New England, in a statement echoed by many people who have identified themselves as victims of abuse by clergy.

''We want firm action, especially from law enforcement officials and legislators, to protect children in the future,'' Gately said.

Many victims also expressed continued disappointment over the lack of criminal prosecutions, saying that Reilly should have tried harder.

''Given the level of depravity. . . .I think they [state officials] should continue to look at any possible way of holding these people [church leaders] accountable,'' said Peter Pollard, who has filed a lawsuit alleging abuse by the Rev. George J. Rosenkranz more than 30 years ago. ''It's an outrage that these people will be allowed to walk away.''

Lawyers for victims suing the archdiocese, however, were generally more receptive to the report, though it will be of little use to them in the state's courts of law.

The court of public opinion is another matter, said plaintiff's attorney Jeffrey Newman, who suspects the report will have a ''great impact'' on those who might believe the scandal over clergy abuse has been hyped by plaintiffs' lawyers and the media.

''This is an independent authority saying these things, the highest ranking law enforcement official in the state,'' said Newman, a lawyer for the Boston firm Greenberg Traurig, which represents more than 260 people suing the archdiocese on sexual abuse claims.

While saying they did not expect a significant influx of new clients seeking to sue the archdiocese, lawyers also said they hoped the Reilly report would push the archdiocese closer to a settlement with victims.

They called the timing of its release fortuitous because talks have again bogged down despite recent statements by Archbishop-elect Sean P. O'Malley that settling the civil claims would be one of his highest priorities.

''The past several days have seen a significant lack of progress in the resolution of these cases,'' said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a lawyer with Greenberg Traurig. ''It appears very much that the old guard of the archdiocese is still running the show. The talks have not been going well.''

The Reilly report drew cautious praise yesterday from the lay Catholic organization Voice of the Faithful. The group's president, James Post, called the report a ''landmark'' document that showed conclusively ''how the Catholic Church and its leaders betrayed the most innocent and vulnerable of our citizens through the misguided belief that secrecy would protect an institution that was compromised at its moral core.

''The dreadful lack of a moral compass revealed in their deeds . . . leaves decent churchgoing Catholics sickened,'' Post said.

Voice of the Faithful's leaders urged lay Catholics to call, fax, or write O'Malley at the chancery to ''demonstrate a broad, public commitment to reform'' before the archbishop-designate is installed Wednesday.

Globe correspondent Nicholas Zamiska contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2003.
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