The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


No charges; lots to fault

By Adrian Walker, Globe Columnist, 7/24/2003

In releasing the results of a 16-month investigation, Attorney General Thomas Reilly went further yesterday than any elected official in recent memory in his denunciations of the Archdiocese of Boston.

The question lingers though: Did he go far enough?

For those who expected the report to merely regurgitate well-known allegations, both the documentation and Reilly's candor came as a pleasant surprise. It displayed the continued erosion of the deference that had protected church officials through an unbelievable six decades of sexual abuse allegations.

For some victims, though, their frustration was palpable.

The attorney general has decided that prosecution is not possible, and for them that means the bad guys win again.

''I have questions, especially on the accessory after the fact law and why what they did was not a crime under that law,'' said Ann Hagan Webb, New England co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. ''It means you helped a criminal hide from justice, and that's exactly what they did by passing priests from parish to parish.''

Reilly was the first to say he was disappointed by not being able to charge church officials for what he called the worst tragedy ever to befall children in Massachusetts.

He settled for trashing the conduct of the church leadership and declaring that there is no evidence that abuse cannot occur again.

If anyone had any illusions that the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law somehow spelled the end to the scandal, yesterday indicated it remains vividly present, waiting for Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley, who is to be installed next Wednesday.

The timing of the report's release was no coincidence.

As Reilly said, ''One of the reasons I decided that this report must be issued now is this report will draw a clear line between the past and a hopeful future.''

Criminal charges were always unlikely; Reilly has never indicated otherwise. The necessity to prove criminal intent on the part of the church hierarchy made it impossible to charge them for most of the wrongdoing that had been committed, he explained.

But criminal charges are not the only way to use the influence of the attorney general's office.

The investigation records in detail the extent of the misconduct by church officials, and who is to blame.

The report blasts, in no uncertain terms, a host of church officials. Reilly, clearly and for the record, placed the blame where it belongs, with evidence, examples, and compelling language. Bishop Thomas Daily, Bishop Robert Banks, Bishop William Murphy, Bishop Alfred Hughes, Bishop John McCormack, and the Reverend William Murphy have all been held accountable by a government official for their actions in a way they never had been before.

Reilly clearly hopes the investigation can serve as a road map for the new bishop, and as a reminder to keep outrage alive until the church truly reforms. Not everyone is disappointed. A spokeswoman for Voice of the Faithful, a lay group dedicated to reforming the church, proclaimed her group vindicated by the Reilly investigation.

''We found almost no difference between our positions and those of Attorney General Reilly,'' said Louise Dittrick. ''This underscores what we have been saying for 18 months: that structural change and hierarchical change needs to take place.''

Some victims who were hoping for indictments no doubt are disappointed by yesterday's results. But the report is in fact the clear line Reilly spoke of, a demarcation between a past of silent complicity and a future in which even the church is subject to the scrutiny of the law.

That's a lot more than anyone would have expected not long ago, when clergy sex abuse was a sordid, silent, and frequently occurring crime.

Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2003.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.

For complete coverage of the priest abuse scandal, go to