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Church impedes state probe into abuse, Reilly says

By Walter V. Robinson and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff, 12/11/2002

Top church officials, such as Bishop John B. McCormack, have been implicated in systematic abuse coverups.  
Coverage of archdiocese coverups
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said last night that the Archdiocese of Boston has been using ''every tool and maneuver'' to impede a criminal investigation by his office that he said has documented an ''elaborate and decades-long'' scheme by the church to cover up crimes of sexual abuse by priests.

Reilly declined to say how his office has responded to the archdiocesan tactics. But law enforcement officials, who declined to be identified, said Reilly's investigators have had to use grand jury subpoenas to get at church documents - despite public pledges by church officials to cooperate with the attorney general's office.

Asked in an interview whether Cardinal Bernard F. Law has received a subpoena to testify before a grand jury, Reilly said: ''No comment.''

Reilly said the church has given the public a false impression that it is cooperating with prosecutors. In fact, he said, ''the archdiocese has used every tool and maneuver available to them to keep us from the facts we need to come to a resolution of this investigation.''

He added: ''We have to fight them for everything we get ... The level of cooperation is nowhere near what it should be, given the magnitude of the crimes against children and the fact that we are dealing with a religious institution.''

Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese, did not return telephone calls last night.

In the interview, Reilly said Massachusetts law makes it difficult to bring criminal charges for the conduct of those, like Law, who supervised the scores of priests who have been accused of sexually molesting children.

Unlike New Hampshire, which used a child endangerment law to force the Diocese of Manchester yesterday to admit to wrongdoing on the same issue, Reilly said Massachusetts has no such statute. ''The facts we have are powerful. The facts are not the problem. The legal tools are the problem,'' Reilly said.

''We have found that there was an elaborate scheme to keep these crimes from prosecutors, to keep the people who committed these crimes from being held criminally accountable,'' Reilly said. What church leaders did, he said, may not be criminally prosecutable because, at the time, they were not legally obligated to report the sexual abuse. But he said the details about the coverup are ''devastating, powerful, and disgusting.''

Reilly said that much of what his office has learned has been publicly reported through civil lawsuits. But other evidence has yet to become public, he said.

Both the church's response to his investigation and what it has uncovered, Reilly said, are ''profoundly disturbing.''

Sparked by the church scandal, legislators have passed a new law requiring members of the clergy to report evidence of abuse to authorities. Tomorrow, another law will take effect, making it a criminal misdemeanor for any adult who ''wantonly or recklessly fails to take reasonable steps'' to prevent injury or sexual abuse to a child.

But prosecutors and legal specialists said it is still difficult to bring criminal charges against Law and other bishops. Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley said that the statute of limitations makes it problematic enough to prosecute the abusive priests.

Even if the supervisors' actions were within the statute of limitations, Coakley said, ''there are very few instances where criminal law punishes negligence.'' Coakley said it is difficult to make the case that Law and others intended for priests to rape children.

Charles W. Rankin, a Boston defense attorney who has followed the cases, said the disclosures ''portray even more than negligence, and perhaps total indifference. But you have to go far beyond that in order to charge someone with a crime who didn't actually commit the crime.''

Walter Robinson can be reached at

This story ran on page A38 of the Boston Globe on 12/11/2002.
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