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Spotlight Report

  Eileen McNamara  

No time for deference


A judge should not be hearing a case involving a Catholic priest with whom he attended the seminary.

A prosecutor should not be advising a cardinal who blames the crimes of priests on the negligence of their victims.

A state's chief law enforcement officer should not be asking politely to see personnel records kept by church officials who flout court orders to produce the same documents in lawsuits.

It is time for Superior Court Judge Thomas E. Connolly to recuse himself from the negligence case brought against the Rev. Jon C. Martin by a victim of Christopher Reardon, a serial child molester and youth worker in Martin's Middleton parish.

It is time for Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley to resign from the Boston Archdiocese's Commission for the Protection of Children, a smokescreen established by Cardinal Bernard F. Law in lieu of actual reform.

And, it is time for Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly to stop negotiating for scraps of paper and start subpoenaing the contents of every file cabinet in the chancery.

Boston is a small town, and the roots of the Catholic Church run wide and deep. A culture of deference toward the dominant religious institution is to be expected, especially from officials with such names as Connolly, Coakley, and Riley. But it is past time for civil authorities to demonstrate they understand that they and the church are not on the same team.

A community that has lost its trust in its religious leaders is relying on law enforcement to hold accountable those responsible for the rape of children and the cover-up of those crimes. How can Boston area Catholics have any such faith considering the appearance of so many conflicts of interest?

By all accounts, Connolly has distinguished himself as a dispassionate jurist during his 11 years on the bench. But the appearance of partiality can undermine the cause of justice as certainly as the reality of bias. Connolly graduated from St. John's Seminary in Brighton in 1964, a different year but the same period in which Martin trained for the priesthood. If ever a case called for a judge's recusal, it is this one, not because Connolly is certain to side with a fellow seminarian but because those who rely on the courts for fairness are uncertain that he won't. Victims betrayed by church officials who promised to remove child molesters from the altar can be forgiven for parceling out their trust more cautiously these days.

Coakley, too, can be credited with good intentions for bringing her experience as the former head of the child abuse unit in Middlesex County to bear on deliberations within the church aimed at preventing further abuse. But surely it must occur to her that she is being used by the embattled cardinal just as others have been used by him before.

In 1993, in the wake of the Father Porter case, Law called Eli and Carolyn Newberger to his residence for exactly the kind of advice he claims to be seeking now from Coakley and the 14 other members of his Commission for the Protection of Children. Eli, a pediatrician and child abuse specialist at Children's Hospital, and Carolyn, a psychologist with similar expertise, met for hours with Law and his aides. Report allegations of abuse to police, they advised. Deny the accused contact with children. Never assume a single incident is the sole incident; children often don't disclose and pedophiles are good actors.

Before they left that day, the Newbergers offered to meet with the cardinal at any time. They never heard from him again. Neither will Coakley and her fellow commissioners once they hand Law the same set of recommendations.

It is not cynicism, but experience, that should prompt civil authorities to question the cardinal's sincerity. Even as Law promises to cooperate fully with Reilly and the state's district attorneys, he is failing to turn over hundreds of pages of court-ordered documents to lawyers for the victims.

It is time to stop kissing his ring and start serving the subpoenas.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 5/1/2002.
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