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Reilly, DAs pressure archdiocese on priests

Warn grand jury may force church to turn over data

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 3/1/2002

In a letter sent yesterday to the law firm representing the Archdiocese of Boston, Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly and five district attorneys warned that they might convene a grand jury to force the church to turn over incriminating information about pedophile priests.

Frustrated by the refusal of the archdiocese to turn over the case files of accused priests, Reilly and the district attorneys today plan to announce the formation of a task force aimed at getting Cardinal Bernard F. Law to be more cooperative with prosecutors and to coordinate information in an increasingly complex investigation.

Specifically, the prosecutors want Law and the archdiocese to waive the confidentiality agreements with victims that the church has used to conceal past abuse cases. That will give prosecutors access to names of victims and witnesses and the nature of the accusations.

Archdiocese lawyers are scheduled to meet with Reilly and the five district attorneys this morning at Reilly's office, with announcement of the task force to follow.

In the past month, the archdiocese has turned over the names of about 90 priests who have been accused of sexually abusing children over the last 40 years. But prosecutors say the list is virtually worthless because it does not provide them with the names of alleged victims and witnesses. Without being able to question victims and witnesses, prosecutors say, they cannot determine whether any of the priests should be prosecuted.

The archdiocese and its lawyers have said they cannot provide that information because the church reached civil settlements with the victims that bound both sides to secrecy.

But Reilly and the prosecutors contend those confidentiality agreements are null and void if their effect is to conceal a crime.

In the letter sent yesterday, Reilly and the five district attorneys said the amount of information provided to prosecutors by the archdiocese so far is ''completely inadequate.''

The letter warns that unless the confidentiality agreements are waived and full files about the past cases of abuse are provided to prosecutors, Reilly and the district attorneys might decide to convene the grand jury.

According to law enforcement sources, two grand juries have already been convened in Norfolk and Plymouth counties, but neither has heard evidence from the archdiocese's keeper of records in an attempt to ascertain the case files of accused priests.

Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the archdiocese's lawyer, did not return a call seeking comment. Peter Morrissey, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the archdiocese would have no comment before today's meeting.

In a brief statement last night, archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey confirmed that lawyers from the Rogers firm would meet with prosecutors ''to discuss the most efficient way to coordinate the delivery of information regarding past allegations of misconduct by members of the clergy. The Archdiocese of Boston looks forward to continuing to cooperate in every respect in this effort.''

In an illustration of the gap between the two sides, Ann Donlan, a spokeswoman for Reilly, used considerably different language to characterize today's meeting.

Stressing that the attorney general and the prosecutors consider the matters in dispute more than ''misconduct'' by priests, Donlan said the meeting was called ''to address concerns about the lack of prompt disclosure of all information held by the archdiocese regarding the sexual assault of children.''

At one point, the prosecutors' letter to Rogers seeks to strike a conciliatory tone, saying that they believe ''you share our commitment'' to resolving the questions surrounding the old cases. But interviews with some of the prosecutors suggest that cordial language masks the growing frustration of district attorneys, and Reilly's decision to personally join the fray is an indication of how the stalemate over the withheld information has become a source of friction between prosecutors and the archdiocese.

Some prosecutors said the district attorneys in whose counties the alleged sexual abuse took place - Kevin M. Burke of Essex, Martha Coakley of Middlesex, Daniel F. Conley of Suffolk, Timothy J. Cruz of Plymouth, and William R. Keating of Norfolk - reached out to Reilly recently to coordinate a joint approach in the face of resistance from the archdiocese.

This will mark Reilly's second intervention in the burgeoning pedophile priest scandal that has dogged Law and the country's fourth-largest archdiocese. On Jan. 9, after a Globe Spotlight Team report showed that the cardinal had reassigned a pedophile priest, John J. Geoghan, to a Weston parish despite knowledge of the priest's history of sexual abuse, Law announced he would refer all future allegations to law enforcement authorities. But after Reilly and Burke publicly criticized Law's refusal to provide information about past cases of abuse, Law changed his mind and said he would turn over information about past cases.

Prosecutors suspect that the vast majority of cases will not lead to charges, because either the statute of limitations has expired or victims will not want to resurrect painful memories they have put behind them. But, as one district attorney put it, ''that's a decision we should be making, not the archdiocese.''

The decision by the five district attorneys to enlist the support of Reilly is more than, as one prosecutor said, ''using the leverage of the attorney general's office.'' Reilly can also offer practical support. Instead of convening separate grand juries in five different jurisdictions, Reilly can convene a single grand jury in which prosecutors from the various counties can force the archdiocese to turn over records and coordinate the testimony against priests who may have abused children in more than one county.

The task force to be announced today will create databanks to cross-check information about priests who may have abused children in more than one county.

Like other district attorneys contacted yesterday, Keating declined to talk about the task force and the prosecutors' letter demanding more cooperation from the archdiocese.

But Keating echoed the sentiments of Reilly and the other prosecutors when asked about the archdiocese's position that the confidentiality agreements reached with victims prevents them from sharing any more information with prosecutors.

''The criminal process overrides any civil agreements,'' said Keating. Agreements or understandings that conceal from a prosecutor's view information about criminal conduct ''are void.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 3/1/2002.
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