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Spotlight Report

  Eileen McNamara  

The power of hindsight


Call it the law of unintended consequences.

Senate President Bill Bulger spends years blocking passage of a state antiracketeering law to protect his brother, the gangster, and ends up shielding his friend, the cardinal.

Middlesex District Attorney Martha Coakley requests high bail instead of a dangerousness ruling to ensure that a defendant stays in jail, and ends up months later watching the suddenly-flush Rev. Paul Shanley prepare to post bail.

Hindsight is 20/20, indeed.

The fury not aimed at predatory priests and their negligent superiors is being directed at lawmakers accused of failing to equip prosecutors with the tools to charge Cardinal Bernard Law criminally and at prosecutors accused of failing to pursue him under existing laws.

''The people are angry and some of that anger is spilling over to me,'' acknowledges Attorney General Tom Reilly, whose name and likeness are featured on angry protest signs at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, carried by those who want to know why Law has not been indicted.

A battered public can be forgiven for suspecting - no matter how unfounded - that he and other prosecutors with Irish surnames are exercising undue deference to the church that has served Boston's Irish for generations. Hyper-vigilance is the understandable result of decades of lies exposed in church documents. ''I'd be angry and suspicious, too,'' admits Reilly even as he denies the charge, noting his criminal probe.

A betrayed victim can be forgiven for the suspicion - no matter how unproven - that more than coincidence explains Shanley's decision to plead the Fifth during a deposition in a civil lawsuit against the church on Monday morning - as two sources say he did - and the announcement on Monday afternoon that he will be posting $300,000 bail this week.

The Archdiocese of Boston ''did not contribute any money'' toward Shanley's bail or his legal fees, Donna Morrissey, the church spokeswoman, said in a prepared statement. Who in Boston is not asking, ''Then, who did?''Simple answers, it turns out, are no easier to summon for the curious than psychological healing or spiritual solace is for the victims.

In retrospect, says Coakley, maybe a judge might have ordered Shanley held without bail had she asked for a dangerousness hearing in May, when he pleaded not guilty to 10 counts of child rape and six counts of indecent assault and battery. ''I doubt it, though. We would have had to have current evidence that he is dangerous now, that there were recent incidents. We did not have that.''

Norfolk District Attorney William Keating wonders if the Senate, where he once served under Bulger's leadership, had heeded the advice of prosecutors, attorneys general, and police officials who have lobbied for an antiracketeering law every year since 1988 if we might have another tool to prosecute church leaders for their role in a ''criminal enterprise.''

''We know now why Bulger opposed it so vigorously,'' he says of the man who is now president of the University of Massachusetts and whose brother is on the FBI's Most Wanted List. ''Rape was not specified under the proposed law, so would it have applied in the church case? I don't know.''

Former attorney general Scott Harshbarger says it was not just Bulger but a Legislature dominated by defense lawyers that was unwilling to give law enforcement officials an additional tool to fight crime. ''It was the whole culture,'' he says. ''Those on the inside took care of each other and those on the outside were, well, they were on the outside.''

Reilly says he wants ''what victims want - accountability. Criminal law is not the only way to get it, though we're trying. Victims' courage in civil suits is what's going to change the church.'' Adds Coakley, ''Sue the pajama maker and he makes his pajamas fireproof. Sock them in the pocketbook, they change.''

Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 12/11/2002.
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