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Spotlight Report

  Derrick Z. Jackson  

Left to prey


Praying to our Father in heaven would have meant more had a few holy fathers in Boston delivered us from evil. Instead, they swept evil under the altar in the spirit of Paul's letter to Timothy: "They that be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition."

The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is drowning in yet more perdition. The Globe Spotlight Team reported yesterday that the church has settled claims for child sexual abuse against at least 70 priests in the last decade. The number of victims involved may be more than 200.

What is more is that it is clear that the church was not on a crusade against child molestation. Its only motive in the settlements was to hush up the victims to avoid public scandal. Despite the massive number of victims and settlements, no case of child sexual abuse by a priest has been reported to state officials over the last several years.

Ray Sinibaldi was abused by a priest more than three decades ago and settled for $35,000 in 1995. He sued only after trying in vain to help the archdiocese develop a policy where victims could feel free to pursue criminal charges. Sinibaldi wrote to Cardinal Bernard Law to say, "The crime of sexual abuse of a minor is one of such heinous proportion that to withhold information about a known perpetrator is in and of itself criminal." Sinibaldi asked Law to give "assistance" and the "blessing of the church" to any victim who wanted to go to the police.

Instead, Law's lawyers worked overtime for secret settlements, so secret that no one except for Cardinal Law and his lawyers knew how widespread child sexual abuse really was. Sinibaldi told the Spotlight Team: "I'm ashamed I took their money now. I should have gone and reported it to the police or filed a lawsuit and called a press conference to announce it. If we had done that, this problem would have been exposed long ago."

Because of the secrecy, there is not a shred of evidence that the church has done anything substantial about the actual problem. To Law's minor credit, he did take many priests out of direct contact with youth within parishes, allowing him to make his oft-stated claim that no known child sex offenders are currently serving any official roles.

To Law's major detriment, some priests, like the infamous John Geoghan, continued to get new assignments after questionable or bogus therapy. Most of the others were disappeared under the protective cloak of sick leaves. They fanned out across the nation, from Pocasset to California, from New Hampshire to Virginia.

While the secular world grapples with how to apply Megan's Law, which is supposed to allow communities to be informed of sexual predators who move into their neighborhoods, the Catholic Church in Boston kept quiet on even its most predatory of priests. When Arthur Austin, now 53, went to the archdiocese in 1998 to expose how he was made a "sex slave" by the Rev. Paul R. Shanley back in the late 1960s, Austin said he was put under "relentless" pressure by the archdiocese to sign a confidentiality agreement.

Shanley, now 70, lives in San Diego, to all appearances to his neighbors a normal retiree. The trail of tears he left behind is another story. Austin still suffers from depression. Another victim fell into depression and heavy drinking. A mother of one of Shanley's victims wrote Law in 1995 asking for help but said she never received a reply.

There is yet no evidence that once kicked out of active duty, the priests have gone on to ravage other children. But the thought that Law is so obviously willing to hide behind its money and risk sending 70 pedophiles or otherwise abusive priests out into the real world without making the least effort to let the real world knowing of their destructive fantasies is blasphemy to his claims of wanting to "protect the children."

It is particularly blasphemous when Law now says he wants to assemble a dream team of abuse experts from academia to guide him to a new policy after he had dismissed victims like Sinibaldi. Sinibaldi, a special needs teacher in Florida who once worked with sexual predators at Bridgewater State Hospital, told the Globe, "I think in the end they used us. I think they wanted to say they had worked on the new policy, and they did say that. The problem is they didn't hear anything we said."

They heard no evil, saw no evil, and refused to deliver over 200 victims of child molestation from evil.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 2/01/2002.
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