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AG raps archdiocese abuse plan

Letter labels policy 'deficient'

By Kevin Cullen, Globe Staff, 7/16/2002

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In what some see as a first step toward seeking an injunction under the state's civil rights law, the office of Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly yesterday accused the Archdiocese of Boston of dragging its feet on implementing measures to protect children from sexual abuse and said the draft policy prepared by Cardinal Bernard F. Law's Commission to Protect Children is deficient in three key areas.

The commission, which is expected to issue a final draft in early September, last month had invited interested parties, including prosecutors, to comment on a 22-page draft that commission chairwoman Maureen S. Bateman called ''very advanced.''

In a four-page letter supported by an eight-page memorandum, Assistant Attorney General Alice E. Moore, chief of the public protection bureau, praised the commission but said its draft lacked ''meaningful oversight'' of priests removed from ministry for abuse, ''clearly articulated procedures'' to investigate allegations, and meaningful sanctions against those who don't follow the policy.

But most of the attorney general's displeasure was directed at the archdiocese for failing to implement measures that Reilly said could be easily and quickly taken to ferret out abuse and make it less likely that children would be abused by priests or other church workers. Reilly said the draft needs language that obligates the archdiocese to follow the policy and that the Vatican must not be allowed to veto it.

''Our problem is not with the commission,'' Reilly said. ''They are doing a good job, and I'm sure the final product will be a good piece of work. Our concerns are with the archdiocese. Their words are good, but the actions have not matched the words. They are dragging their feet on implementation.''

Reilly was noncommital when asked if the letter was the first step toward seeking an injunction in which his office would argue that a vulnerable group, in this case children, needed protection under the state civil rights law.

''We're taking things a step at a time. I think the letter speaks for itself,'' said Reilly.

But several lawyers who reviewed the letter said it appeared to be designed to force the archdiocese to immediately implement reforms recommended by the attorney general or face the prospects of a court injunction.

''I think this is a precursor to a civil rights injunction. Basically, he's given the archdiocese the option to resolve this without litigation,'' said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston lawyer who represents many alleged victims of sexually abusive priests.

Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the archdiocese, said in a statement released last night that the archdiocese is reviewing the contents of Moore's letter. The statement said the archdiocese ''is continuing to work closely with the proper legal authorities to comply with the changes'' in state law that require clergy to report sexual abuse and also detailed policy changes the archdiocese has been implementing over the last six months.

Bateman, chairwoman of the archdiocese's child protection commission, said she would withhold comment ''until I have a chance to digest what the AG is saying.''

Yesterday was the unofficial deadline for outside groups to comment on the draft policy. The commission is expected to meet July 30 to consider the feedback. Bateman said the outside submissions ''haven't been overwhelming in numbers.''

So responding to Reilly's concerns would probably be the commission's most pressing challenge. Reilly stressed that he believed his office's differences with the commission were minor and could be easily resolved. He was far harsher in his criticism of the archdiocese, questioning the willingness of Cardinal Bernard Law to implement measures recommended by secular authorities.

''The commission can do outstanding work, but if the policy it creates isn't implemented, what good is it?'' Reilly asked. ''We have concerns about implementation. What is the role of the Vatican? If the Vatican doesn't like it, does it still get implemented? Is this policy going to be statewide or just for Boston? It must be statewide. We have to nail this stuff down. So far, the archdiocese has not impressed us with their commitment to implementation. They take half-steps, so you have to question their commitment.''

For example, Reilly said, after archdiocesan officials met with his office some months ago, they agreed to create a hot line so victims could report abuse and to establish a secular advocacy center that would make victims feel less threatened than going through the church.

''They adopted our recommendations in those areas, but they haven't advertised the fact that this stuff exists, so hardly anyone knows about it,'' said Reilly.

Reilly's office isn't the only interested party that believes the commission needs to revise its draft policy. Yesterday, a children's advocacy group, Massachusetts Citizens for Children, issued a seven-page response, saying ''the proposed web of structures could actually discourage reports to civil authorities and cause confusion or interference with the investigative roles of the police, the Department of Social Services and the District Attorney.''

The advocacy group questioned how independent a commission created by the archdiocese could be and said the church's stated desire to train its employees on how to screen reports of abuse was usurping the authority vested in secular authorities to vet such reports. ''The proposed web of structures to receive reports of abuse and investigate alleged cases, however, may work against the best interests of children and adult victims by complicating, delaying or obfuscating what should be a clear path to reporting, healing and closure,'' the group said.

Reilly and his top aides, as well as other state prosecutors, have expressed frustration that Massachusetts lacks the laws to hold Law and other church supervisors criminally responsible for failing to protect minors from abusive priests. While the attorney general has convened a grand jury to investigate Law and his top aides for keeping abusive priests in positions where they had access to children, Reilly has acknowledged that criminal charges are unlikely.

But for months, prosecutors have been building a case in which they could seek a civil injunction before a judge, compelling the archdiocese to implement measures to protect children, at which Law has balked. Moore spelled out some of those measures in her letter.

''There are a number of critical areas where the Archdiocese has not acted decisively in addressing the issue of sexual abuse, particularly with regard to education and dissemination of information,'' Moore wrote. ''The Archdiocese has not provided immediate education to children on what constitutes sex abuse and how to respond and report it.''

Moore said her office had hoped that education would have begun while children were still in school and in religious education classes before the summer break. She said the archdiocese had not provided parents with ''basic information on how to detect signs of sexual abuse, or what to do if a child wants to report an uncomfortable or abusive experience with a priest.''

Moore said the attorney general's office had recommended an immediate mass mailing of information and that the archdiocese update its Web site to include links to information on sexual abuse and a victim's advocacy center. ''Upon our review of the website today, none of that information in available,'' Moore wrote.

She said the archdiocese has failed to train priests on how to recognize signs of sexual abuse or about the mandatory reporting law that was amended in May to include priests among those required to report suspected child abuse.

Moore recommended that the commission establish a transition team ''that would have the authority, expertise and financing to implement interim measures and supervise the implementation of the policies, training and educational efforts that will ultimately be recommended to the Archdiocese.''

Reilly's office left no doubt that it believed that the cardinal and the archdiocese are not capable of doing this themselves.

''We continue to be frustrated by the Archdiocese's slow pace of progress toward implementing the essential components of a comprehensive program,'' she wrote.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/16/2002.
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