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Spotlight Report

'The archdiocese will report retroactively on priest offenders'

By Globe Staff, 1/25/2002

Diocese will report priests
Transcript of press conference
Editorial: Cardinal Law's response
Below are excerpts from Cardinal Law's news conference yesterday at the Park Plaza Hotel.

As you know, we've just concluded the third assembly of priests in this archdiocese . . .

And I would say that the consensus was that it could not have come at a more providential time. It was very, very good for us to be together. It was a positive time. We dealt realistically with the sad events of the past, which bring you together here today. We assessed the present, and we agreed in moving forward confidently to the future . . .

Let me just make a series of points that, from my perspective, help position us moving forward.

I have acknowledged that, in retrospect, I know that I made mistakes in the assignment of priests.

I have said that I have come to see that our policy was flawed. The fundamental flaw was the assumption that a psychological evaluation after treatment could be relied upon to reassign a priest.

I have come to recognize that it is simply not appropriate to assign a priest guilty of such an act to a parish or to any other assignment. Our revised policy reflects this conviction, as I have indicated before and repeat again: There is no priest known to us to have been guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor holding any position in this archdiocese.

I wish I could undo what I now see to have been mistakes. However, that is not a possibility. What is possible is to apologize again to victims and their families and also to learn from those mistakes as we plan for the future. And our policy moving forward seeks to do that, and it is that policy which I was able to outline to the priests yesterday, and it is that policy which I outline to you in some more detail now.

I have made the decision that the archdiocese will report retroactively on priest offenders. Obviously we want to do this in a way that respects the confidentiality of the victims.

Dr. Michael Collins, who is the president and CEO of Caritas Christi, is representing me in convening a group of distinguished physicians and educators whom I have asked to assist in developing a strategy for the protection of all children from sexual abuse. I will ask this group to consider four basic . . . questions:

First, the feasibility of establishing an interdisciplinary center for the prevention of sexual abuse of children.

Secondly, I will ask this group to put forth the goals for such a center.

Thirdly, the objectives for reaching those goals.

And then, fourthly, I will ask this group of distinguished physicians and educators to suggest the names of those most qualified who can move this project forward.

There are several things that I would also ask this group to do, if not this group itself then the group of people who they will suggest, as, if you will, a blue [ribbon] panel national group of experts.

And I would ask them, first of all, to critique our present policy. We think it's a good policy, but we want it critiqued nonetheless.

Secondly, to help us in enhancing our outreach to victims and to families.

Thirdly, to assist us in enhancing our outreach to parishes and schools most affected.

And then, fourthly, to help us enhance our spiritual care of all of those affected.

This is a tall order and what I'm sharing with you now is the beginning of a process, the beginning of a journey.

Q. Have you considered stepping down?

A. I indicated yesterday to the priests that the solution to this problem, as I see it, does not include my resignation as archbishop. The relationship of the bishop to his diocese is signified by the ring he wears, and you don't walk away when the problem is difficult. That's when you need to be together.

Q. In retrospect, was John Geoghan's priesthood an effective ministry, as you once told him?

A. You know what? I think that that is something that only God can judge. And I don't think that that furthers where we are now in protecting future children. What I have said on that case, I think, is very clear: I made a mistake in assigning John Geoghan. I regret that assignment. And I have attempted to learn from that mistake in the development of a policy moving forward that focuses all of our energies on the protection of children.

Q. Why haven't you reached out to talk with the victims of John Geoghan yourself, to apologize to them face to face?

A. I hope that that opportunity will be provided.

Q. Cardinal, you seem concerned about the victims now, and continue to talk about that, but in the documents, there didn't seem to be any concern for the victims at all. There only seemed to be concern for Father Geoghan.

A. I believe our policy, and the way that policy was implemented, was indeed concerned with victims. That's precisely why priests were removed to begin with, why they were evaluated, why they were sent to treatment. But at the end of the day, what I now see is the recommendation, that someone could be put back in ministry, is a recommendation that should never be followed. We cannot, and we do not, put people into positions now who have been guilty of sexual abuse. I don't know how many other ways I can say that I recognize the mistake, and that we have corrected the mistake, and that our policy is to focus, as I said to the priests yesterday, in its primary focus on the protection of children.

Q. As you talk about moving forward, and having open discussion on this, would you be open to discussion about who is eligible for priesthood, or having a discussion about opening the priesthood to married men, for example?

A. That's not a question for me to decide, but certainly one of the things that I indicated yesterday to the priests that I would hope to have help on with this group of experts that will be suggested by the deans and others is to look at our present screening process of applicants to see how that might be strengthened and where it may need to be strengthened.

Q. Between 1984 and 1993, were you made aware of any other priests that were known pedophiles?

A. I've indicated in the report that I just said that we have determined to go to public authorities with the names of all priests, whom we are aware of, of having been guilty of the abuse of minors, so we will be bringing those names forward to the public authorities.

Q. How large is that list?

A. I can't say how many, but every one of them will be brought forward.

Q. When do you expect to do it?

A. We're in the process now of seeing how that can best be done in a way that will ensure the confidentiality of victims, who at the time that they came forward to us did so with the understanding that . . . their coming forward would not be made public.

Q. Cardinal, given everything that is going on right now -- the Geoghan case, the financial straits the church is facing -- is there a crisis in the Boston archdiocese?

A. Is there a crisis? There is a very difficult moment. But, you know, this Geoghan moment is not a new moment for us. It's a moment we have faced in a variety of ways. It's a moment we faced when he was removed from parish ministry, when he was removed from any ministry. It was a moment that was faced when we appealed to the Holy Father to laicize him. We have been aware of what is now unfolding in the glare of the press. There was a great deal of public attention on the Geoghan case some time ago, so this is not new, but it's certainly a difficult moment.

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 1/25/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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