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Spotlight Report

Patterns of abuse found nationwide

By Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

 The US cases
Nineteen Roman Catholic bishops, nine of them Americans, have resigned since 1990 in the context of sex scandals.
Cardinal Bernard Law, archbishop of Boston, yesterday, after months of criticism for his mishandling of sex abuse charges against priests.
The late Archbishop Eugene Marino of Atlanta, in 1990, upon admitting involvement with a female parishioner.
Auxiliary Bishop James McCarthy of New York, on June 11, after apologizing for affairs with adult women.
Bishop Anthony O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla., in March, after admitting repeated abuse of an underage student at the Missouri seminary he led.
Archbishop Robert Sanchez of Santa Fe, N.M., in 1993, after confessing relationships with adult women.
Bishop J. Keith Symons, O'Connell's predecessor in Palm Beach, in 1998, after admitting past molestation of five boys in three parishes.
Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee, following May 23 news that his archdiocese paid $450,000 to a man claiming Weakland attempted to sexually assault him. Weakland admitted an "inappropriate relationship" but denied abuse.
Bishop J. Kendrick Williams of Lexington, Ky., on June 11, following allegations he abused two minors and an 18-year-old decades ago, which Williams denied.
Bishop G. Patrick Ziemann of Santa Rosa, Calif., in 1999, when a priest claimed sexual coercion after Ziemann learned he had stolen parish funds. Ziemann said their relationship was consensual.
Source: Associated Press
Like jarring aftershocks from a mighty earthquake, Boston's clergy sexual abuse scandal has registered around the world, provoking what some scholars have called the worst crisis in the Catholic Church in 500 years.

Within weeks of Globe reports in January about the Archdiocese of Boston's secret settlement of child molestation claims against at least 70 priests, dioceses around the country were forced to confront the consequences of their own policies about sexually abusive clergymen.

What they found opened a chasm between many faithful Catholics and those they had trusted to lead their church.

The clerical sex abuse scandal swiftly reached from New Hampshire to California, from Arizona to Pennsylvania. It resonated in Ireland and Mexico and Poland, the homeland of Pope John Paul II, who was forced to make it the focus of his attention.

By March, Bishop Anthony J. O'Connell of Palm Beach, Fla., had resigned in disgrace after he acknowledged sexually abusing a teenage seminarian more than 25 years before when the student had sought his counseling.

Polls showed a growing majority of Catholics were critical of the way their church was handling the crisis and demanded that the problem get immediate attention.

Confidentiality deals to settle lawsuits, designed to contain the church's scandal and maintain privacy for embarrassed victims, began to evaporate as those who had been attacked became irate to learn that those who had assaulted them had been put in positions where they could attack others.

By April, dozens of priests from 17 US dioceses had been ousted or suspended in cases of sexual abuse.

By summer, the nation's bishops had pledged to remove every abusive priest from ministry and promised a policy of openness that they struggled to deliver.

By the end of the year, at least 325 of the country's 46,000 priests had resigned or been stripped of their ministry, according to a survey by the Associated Press.

Earlier this week, the Diocese of New Hampshire became the first in the nation to admit it may have violated criminal law by failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests. Faced with the likelihood that the diocese would be indicted on multiple counts of violating New Hampshire's child endangerment statute, Bishop John B. McCormack signed a legal agreement acknowledging that law enforcement officials had enough evidence to win a conviction.

The scandal has forced out bishops in New York, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and Florida. Those bishops, unlike Law, resigned after personally being accused of sexual misconduct.

And now it has claimed the archbishop of Boston, Cardinal Bernard F. Law - the man who had come to personify the scandal.

''This has jolted the foundations of the church in the United States and the shock waves will ripple out for years to come,'' said author Jason Berry, whose reporting helped expose the abuse of children by priests in Louisiana as early as 1985. ''We've seen a crisis in the Catholic Church which rivals the Reformation centuries ago.''

Almost immediately after the Boston scandal broke, one of Law's former top lieutenants, Bishop Thomas V. Daily, was confronted with fresh complaints that he had brushed aside sexual abuse allegations against one of Daily's pastors in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Daily now leads the nation's fifth-largest diocese.

Reports in Boston portrayed Daily as one of the principal architects of the coverup of pedophile priest John J. Geoghan's assaults on children. And in the early days of this year's crisis, Daily resisted demands from law enforcement agencies that he deliver the names of priests accused of sexual abuse going back 20 years.

By mid-April, Daily, a native of Belmont, had relented, promising full cooperation. By September, Daily had reached retirement age and had submitted his letter of resignation to the pope. A month later, 42 people filed a child sexual abuse lawsuit against his diocese.

Daily is among the former Boston bishops to receive grand jury subpoenas as part of the investigation that is examining possible criminal violations by church leaders who supervised sexually abusive priests.

In city after city, as officials reviewed personnel files and rewrote policies regarding sexual abuse by clergy, more priests stood accused and more damning documents were uncovered.

The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a victims' advocate who cowrote a study of clergy sexual abuse for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1985, said those documents have distinguished the clergy abuse scandal from those of the early 1980s and 1990s.

''For the first time, people saw the damn documents right in their face,'' said Doyle. ''That started a process that I thought I would never live to see, which was the rather quick awakening of the laity and the rapid shattering of the wall of denial that had existed in the church. Law will not be the last one to go because there has to be a whole new way of doing business.''

In February, when the Archdiocese of Philadelphia - the seventh largest in the nation with 1.4 million Catholics - found credible evidence that 35 priests sexually abused about 50 children, several still in their church jobs were dismissed. Church leaders scoured personnel records dating to 1950, and Philadelphia Cardinal Anthony J. Bevilacqua apologized and established a commission on clergy sexual abuse.

In April, when the Rev. Donald Rooney was called by his superiors at the Archdiocese of Cleveland to discuss allegations that he had sexually abused a young girl in 1980, he never showed up for the meeting. Instead, authorities said the 48-year-old priest drove to a drugstore parking lot and shot himself in the head. Rooney left behind a one-sentence note, instructing those who found his body about how to locate his sister.

In August, two Connecticut pastors in the Bridgeport diocese were ordered by Bishop William E. Lori to perform ''public penance'' after they failed to report the location of another priest sought on charges of child sexual abuse.

In September, the Society of Jesus in California reached a $7.5 million settlement with two mentally retarded men who were abused by Jesuits over a 30-year span. Their lawsuit alleged ''acts of sodomy, molestation, and false imprisonment.''

Also that month, Cardinal William H. Keeler released the names of 57 priests and members of religious orders accused of molesting minors in the Baltimore Archdiocese over 70 years. Keeler did so even though none of the men is now in ministry.

''At times, we have let our fears of scandal override the need for the kind of openness that helps prevent abuse,'' Keeler wrote in a letter to 180,000 Catholic households.

A.W. Richard Sipe, a psychotherapist and former Benedictine monk who has studied sexuality and priests, called the scandal's impact ''epic.''

''There has been a shift from the presumption that the church can attend to its own moral issues,'' said Sipe. ''What has been revealed across the country is - I hate to say it - that the church lies, quite freely and under all sorts of pretexts. That may have come as a shock, but now it can't be reversed.''

As the church in Boston trembled through its scandal, the nation's largest archdiocese in Los Angeles, too, was rocked with one of its own.

Cardinal Roger M. Mahony publicly apologized to children who had been attacked by priests. He announced a zero-tolerance policy on sexual abuse. In the spring, he promised that no priest credibly accused would ever return to parish work or retain any position with the archdiocese and he fired eight priests, most of them retired, who had been accused of abuse.

But Mahony is still besieged by charges of sexual misconduct against at least 60 current or former priests in his archdiocese, which is under severe financial constraints.

A Los Angeles Times review of internal records showed that the archdiocese under Mahony withheld information from police about priests charged with sexually abusing minors and allowed them to escape prosecution.

Thomas Farragher can be reached at

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
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