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Spotlight Report

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DA quits diocesan panel on children

By Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 5/7/2002

With her office poised to prosecute a Boston priest who Cardinal Bernard F. Law knew had been accused of sexual abuse, Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley resigned yesterday from Law's Commission for the Protection of Children, saying that to remain on the panel would compromise her law enforcement duties.

The Globe reported Saturday that Coakley was ''seriously considering'' leaving her volunteer position on the panel, which she had taken up in March. Last week in San Diego, police arrested Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who faces three counts of child rape dating to the 1980s in Newton.

Shanley will be arraigned this morning in Newton District Court, temporarily located in Cambridge.

''Given recent disclosures related to Father Paul Shanley, I feel that in order to eliminate even the appearance of conflict it is best that I resign from the commission effective today,'' Coakley wrote in a one-page letter to chairwoman Maureen Bateman.

Coakley's decision to serve on the commission had been questioned by critics who said it would interfere with her law enforcement responsibilities - especially because she and other top prosecutors must weigh whether Law and other high church officials acted criminally when they shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish.

But Coakley had said she believed she could balance both duties because the panel's mission is not to investigate individual cases but to advise the archdiocese as it revises its policies on clergy misconduct. And she had repeatedly said she would review her membership to determine if it conflicted, or presented the appearance of a conflict, with her job as district attorney.

Law created the 15-member commission in January after the Globe reported that he had reassigned the former priest John J. Geoghan to a suburban parish while aware of his history of molesting children.

Sacha Pfeiffer can be reached at

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 5/7/2002.
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