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Spotlight Report

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Prosecutors say archdiocese data on priests lacking

By Michael Rezendes, and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 2/1/2002

Four district attorneys said yesterday that information provided by the Boston Archdiocese about some three dozen priests accused of sexually molesting minors is insufficient to launch any criminal investigations now.

''There's very little for us to act on,'' said Essex County District Attorney Kevin Burke, whose office received the names of six priests accused of sexual misconduct from the archdiocese.

''We don't have enough information to go forward with any criminal investigations with the information we have received thus far,'' echoed Anson Kaye, spokesman for Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley.

Burke described the quality of the archdiocese's information as ''less than basic,'' while acting Suffolk District Attorney Elizabeth Keeley characterized the material she received as ''bare bones.''

In Norfolk County, a spokesman for District Attorney William Keating said Keating already has made a formal request to the archdiocese for information about 10 priests, even though the church gave only seven names.

David Traub, Keating's spokesman, declined to elaborate on the discrepancy. But when asked if Keating's office is aware of allegations of sexual misconduct against Norfolk County clergymen in addition to those identified by the church, Traub replied, ''correct.''

Late Wednesday the archdioceses forwarded the names of 38 priests accused of sexual molestation over the last 40 years to the six district attorneys. The Globe Spotlight Team reported yesterday that the church has settled claims of abuse involving at least 70 priests over the last ten years.

Prosecutors said yesterday that church officials indicated they would be forwarding the names of additional priests accused of sexual misconduct at an unspecified time - along with the names of victims and other information crucial to the successful prosecution of sexually abusive clergy.

Cardinal Bernard Law agreed to hand over the names of priests accused of sexual abuse to civil authorities last month after years of fighting proposed legislation that would have required church officials to report the information.

The turnabout occurred after the Globe reported that Law and other officials in the archdiocese had permitted former priest John J. Geoghan to continue in parish work even though they had credible evidence that he had sexually molested children. Attorney General Thomas Reilly and Burke criticized Law for initially saying the church would not report past allegations of clergy sexual abuse, only those lodged from now on.

Geoghan was convicted of indecent assault last month and faces additional criminal charges and 90 civil lawsuits. About 130 individuals have accused Geoghan of sexually abusing them when they were children.

According to county prosecutors, the archdiocese forwarded the names of 10 accused priests to Middlesex County, nine to Suffolk, seven to Norfolk, six to Essex, and three to Plymouth and Barnstable counties. The tally could be less than 38, prosecutors said, because the names of some priests could have been forwarded to more than one county, if a particular priest was accused of molesting minors at more than one location.

Geoghan, for instance, has been accused of sexual abuse in Essex, Suffolk, and Middlesex counties.

Prosecutors said the archdiocese accompanied the names of accused priests with the age of the victims, the location of the alleged offenses, and the approximate date of the molestations. But Keeley and other district attorneys said no prosecution is likely to go forward without victims' names.

Keeley said the archdiocese is interviewing victims to get their permission to pass their names to prosecutors, but also appealed to victims and others with knowledge of clergy sexual abuse to call a Suffolk County hot line at 617-619-4295.

Responding to a question from a reporter, Keeley said she would not rule out prosecuting church officials as accessories to sexual abuse committed by priests. Nor would she rule out lodging obstruction of justice charges against church officials, including Law. ''I'm not aware that he stands in any privileged position,'' she said.

Burke said he believes it's unlikely church officials will face charges as accessories because they would have to had participated in the abuse in some way.

But, he added, ''That's not to say that somebody out there wouldn't take a broader view.''

This story ran on page B10 of the Boston Globe on 2/1/2002.
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