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Spotlight Report

Goals are prevention, better response

By Michael Paulson and Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 6/1/2002

Church officials in Eastern and Central Massachusetts yesterday announced new, tougher measures aimed at preventing and responding to incidents of clergy sexual abuse.

In Worcester, Bishop Daniel P. Reilly released a new policy that the diocese posted on its Web site and plans to publish next week as an insert in the diocesan newspaper. The policy strengthens a requirement for criminal background checks for all church employees and volunteers, outlines how employees and volunteers can report allegations of sexual abuse, and establishes a new ''Office of Healing and Prevention'' to serve alleged victims, accused priests, and affected parishioners.

''I see this as another step for us as a diocesan family to move forward, confident that we are calling all people of good faith to be responsible for their actions, while recognizing our Christian duty to do so with love,'' Reilly said.

In Boston, Bishop Walter J. Edyvean released an open letter to Catholics outlining the archdiocese's plans to comply with the state's newly expanded mandatory reporting law, which now requires anyone employed by the church to report to state officials any circumstance where there is ''reasonable cause to believe'' that a child under the age of 18 is being physically or sexually abused. The law also requires that by Monday church employees report any past instances of abuse.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, told reporters that the state imposes a $1,000 penalty for each failure to report an instance of abuse.

''We should have been doing this anyway,'' Coyne said.

The archdiocesan spokesman said he personally had to deal with the requirements of the new law this week when a relative of an alleged victim began to provide him details of an assault.

''It was a relative and he said, `Well, do you know Father X?' And I said, `Yeah.' And he said, `Well my brother was abused by him.' And I said, `Do you know that I am mandated now to report that?''' Coyne would not provide the name of the accused priest but said the alleged abuse had already been reported.

Asked whether he expected a flood of new complaints under the retroactive reporting provision of the law, Coyne said, ''Perhaps.''

In Worcester, the new policy shares with worshipers a description of the steps the church is taking to prevent abuse. The policy includes measures the church is using to screen applicants for the seminary as well as priests and deacons from other dioceses who want to serve in Worcester.

''Because the sexual abuse of minors violates the very nature and mission of the Church and the Gospel message, it is abhorrent to all believers,'' the Worcester policy states. ''Any such conduct, by any diocesan personnel, will not be tolerated.''

''All members of the Church have a sacred paramount responsibility to protect children,'' the policy states. ''Because the sexual abuse of minors affects the whole Church, the whole Church must, therefore, be involved in its prevention and treatment.''

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 6/1/2002.
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