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Spotlight Report

Medical deans to address clergy on sexual abuse

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 2/1/2002

The state's leading medical school deans will gather today at the Brighton residence of Cardinal Bernard F. Law to begin a critique of the Archdiocese of Boston's handling of clergy sexual abuse.

The deans' main task will be to recruit a panel of national sexual abuse experts who are willing to advise the local Catholic church on how to prevent, study, and respond to clergy misconduct.

''My hope is that we can develop a comprehensive program of child protection that will provide some advice to the diocese and to others who might face similar challenges,'' said Dr. Michael F. Collins, president and chief executive officer of Caritas Christi Health Care System, the archdiocesan hospital network.

Collins said he expects the group to have a ''very aggressive time frame,'' spending a few weeks setting up a panel, and then quickly setting about the tasks laid out by Law: considering the feasibility of establishing a new center on sexual abuse, critiquing archdiocesan procedures, and advising the archdiocese on how best to screen out potential pedophiles and how to reach out to victims and their families.

The archdiocese has settled lawsuits alleging sexual misconduct by at least 70 priests, according to an investigation by the Globe Spotlight Team. Since the controversy over clergy sexual abuse, Law has vowed that ''the number one priority of the archdiocese and me personally will be to ensure the safety of our children.''

Law has asked seven men, including Collins, to advise him on establishing a ''blue-ribbon committee'' on sexual abuse of children. The other panelists are Dr. Edwin H. ''Ned'' Cassem, a Jesuit priest and former chief of psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital; Dr. Aram V. Chobanian, dean and provost of Boston University School of Medicine; Alberto Godenzi, dean of Boston College Graduate School of Social Work; Dr. John T. Harrington, dean of Tufts University School of Medicine; Dr. Aaron Lazare, chancellor and dean of University of Massachusetts Medical School; and Dr. Joseph B. Martin, dean of Harvard Medical School.

Most task force members meeting today are not experts on sexual abuse, but because of their posts they are expected to recruit specialists to advise the cardinal. None of the task force members would agree to be interviewed before today's meeting, but Godenzi sent a letter to the Boston College community explaining his participation and saying that he hopes the church will be able to learn lessons from other institutions that have dealt with sexual abuse of children.

''I believe that we can learn from similar events in our history that have prompted changes in areas such as schools and camps where abuse has occurred,'' wrote Godenzi, who has researched child abuse for 20 years. ''I am hopeful that the concept of zero tolerance, which is certainly not new, can now be applied in this context.''

Martin is not planning to attend the first meeting because he will be out of town, but he has agreed to help the panel, said Harvard Medical School spokeswoman Donna Burtanger.

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page B10 of the Boston Globe on 2/1/2002.
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