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Spotlight Report

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Abuse scandal far deeper than disclosed, report says

Victims of clergy may exceed 1,000, Reilly estimates

By Walter V. Robinson and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 7/24/2003

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly discusses his office's investigation of abuse in the Boston archdiocese. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

Some of the 63 boxes that contain the 30,000 pages of documents reviewed by the attorney general's office. (Globe Staff Photo / Barry Chin)

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 Complete report
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AG's report, press conference
Statement from the archdiocese

Abuse reports in archdiocese
Leaders who handled abuse
The cost of clergy sex abuse

Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly yesterday called the clergy sexual abuse scandal in the Archdiocese of Boston ''the greatest tragedy to befall children -- ever'' in Massachusetts, one that involved far more priests and many more victims than 18 months of traumatic public disclosures have suggested.

Reilly, in releasing the report on a 16-month investigation, said that, over six decades, at least 237 priests and 13 other church employees were accused of molesting at least 789 minors. Reilly said the actual number of victims may be much higher, and probably exceeds 1,000.

But Reilly said that, though he wished it were otherwise, he could find no criminal statute under which he could prosecute church leaders, including Cardinal Bernard F. Law. Nonetheless, he concluded that Law, his two predecessors as archbishop, and numerous subordinate bishops facilitated the years of abuse, protecting priests time and again while leaving children vulnerable.

''The mistreatment of children was so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable,'' Reilly said. Church leaders, he said, ''in effect, sacrificed children for many, many years.''

Before yesterday, the consensus was that no more than 150 priests in the Boston archdiocese had been accused of molesting minors.

In the report, Reilly concluded that despite some statements by Law to the contrary, the cardinal was deeply involved in decisions that permitted accused priests to retain access to children well into the late 1990s, and he cited cases in which those priests molested more minors.

What's more, the report cites substantial evidence to refute assertions by Law that he was unaware of the extent of the problem.

''There is overwhelming evidence that for many years Cardinal Law and his senior managers had direct, actual knowledge that substantial numbers of children in the archdiocese had been sexually abused by substantial numbers of its priests,'' the report said. Any claim to the contrary, by Law or others, the report went on, ''is simply not credible.''

The report also cited evidence that Law ''had firsthand knowledge of the problem of clergy sexual abuse of children for many years'' -- even before he became archbishop of Boston in 1984.

Reilly's office, which had to use grand jury subpoenas to force disclosure by church officials, discovered fresh evidence of efforts by Law's deputies, five of whom now head their own dioceses, to hide the problem from the public, and sometimes from inquiring law enforcement officials.

For example:

* Bishop Robert J. Banks in 1984 urged prosecutors and a judge to be lenient toward the Rev. Eugene M. O'Sullivan, who had pleaded guilty to raping an altar boy. Banks, according to the report, knew something prosecutors didn't -- that O'Sullivan had other victims. Banks is now bishop of the Green Bay, Wis., diocese.

* After a Hingham pastor, the Rev. John R. Hanlon, was indicted on rape charges in 1992, Bishop Alfred C. Hughes did not disclose to law enforcement officials who contacted him that a second victim of Hanlon had contacted the archdiocese. Hughes is now archbishop of New Orleans.

* As recently as 2000, an auxiliary bishop who is not named in the report was alerted to accusations that Christopher Reardon, a youth worker at a Middleton parish, had been molesting children. But the bishop did not notify archdiocesan officials, and Reardon found new victims before he was arrested several months later.

Indeed, only twice in six decades, according to the report, did church officials alert law enforcement authorities to the illicit sexual behavior of priests. And in one of those cases, the alert came only after church officials allowed the priest, the Rev. Paul J. Mahan, to spend an unsupervised summer living with teenage boys.

For the beleaguered church, there were few encouraging passages in the 76-page report. With two exceptions -- a nun and one auxiliary bishop -- no one spoke up against the practice of shielding abusive priests, the investigation found. ''(N)one of [Law's] senior managers advised him to take any of the steps that might have ended the systemic abuse of children,'' the report said.

And while the investigation, overseen by Kurt Schwartz, the chief of Reilly's criminal bureau, concluded that the reported incidence of sexual abuse by priests has decreased over the last several years, Reilly yesterday expressed concern that the drop may be only because children who have been recently abused have not come forward.

The report also concluded that the archdiocese's new child protection policy, adopted two months ago, has serious deficiencies.

Even now, the report said, ''The process protects priests at the expense of victims'' when complaints are lodged by victims by giving the archbishop discretion on whether to investigate. Also, Reilly said, the lay review board does not have independence from the archbishop, and there is still no provision to monitor the behavior of accused priests who have been removed from ministry.

The Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, the archdiocesan spokesman, said in a statement yesterday that the archdiocese ''believes it has already taken substantial steps'' to protect children. But he said the church is willing to work with others, including Reilly's office, to improve the policy.

Coyne said he could not offer a substantive response before church officials have time to study the report. But Coyne reiterated the church's commitment to ''treat sexual abuse of a child as a criminal matter'' and ''end the culture of secrecy in the handling of such matters.''

Perhaps the most surprising disclosure was the evidence that many more priests were involved in sexual abuse of minors than has previously been known.

In mid-2000, 18 months before the Globe Spotlight Team first reported that the problem was widespread, the archdiocese's internal tabulations recorded that church officials were aware of allegations involving 191 priests and 402 victims, according to records kept by the Rev. Brian M. Flatley, the cardinal's aide for sexual abuse issues.

The total number of diocesan and religious order priests accused, according to Reilly's report, is 237, although aides said yesterday that the 237 includes a handful of religious brothers. Reilly's report does not say how many of the 237 are diocesan priests.

Before yesterday, the Globe had reported the number of accused priests and brothers was more than 150. A database developed by the newspaper -- covering 50 years, not the 60 years studied by Reilly's investigators -- includes 161 accused clergymen. Of those, 133 are diocesan priests, 22 are priests from religious orders, and six are brothers.

Among the documents the church turned over to Reilly were secret annual reports prepared by Flatley between 1994 and 2000 for Law and his top deputies. It was in these reports that Flatley noted that the number of priests known to have been accused of sexual abuse was at 191 in mid-2000. Since then, accusations have been lodged against several dozen more.

In five of those six years for which Flatley included figures, the archdiocese paid $17.6 million to settle claims by victims, and hundreds of thousands more to pay for treatment for both victims and their abusers.

Last year, the archdiocese paid $10 million to settle 86 claims against one defrocked priest, John J. Geoghan. More than 500 others who say they were abused by priests in the archdiocese have claims that are pending, amid estimates that it will cost the church another $50 million to $100 million to settle them.

In the report, and at his news conference yesterday, Reilly said he decided in March 2002 to launch a formal inquiry when church officials, after considerable prodding, turned over records implicating 69 living priests who had 214 alleged victims.

By June, the attorney general had decided to convene a grand jury, and use its subpoena power, after church officials failed to cooperate with investigators.

According to one official familiar with the investigation, some of the bishops insisted that they be given questions a month before their interviews, that they would not take follow-up questions, that they would not answer questions about any documents and that some subjects would be off-limits in the interviews.

For those reasons, Law and at least six bishops were ordered to appear before the grand jury.

After reviewing 30,000 pages of documents, conducting numerous interviews, and taking 100 hours of testimony before the grand jury, prosecutors believed there was strong evidence refuting statements by Law that he was unaware of the continued threat to children from abusive priests and that his subordinates most often handled the issue on his behalf.

Citing that evidence, the report said Law ''bears ultimate responsibility for the tragic treatment of children that occurred during his tenure.''

Law, the report said, ''had direct knowledge of the scope, duration, and severity of the crisis experienced by children in the archdiocese; he participated directly in crucial decisions concerning the assignment of abusive priests, decisions that typically increased the risk to children.''

The report also pointed to evidence that Law was knowledgeable about the extent of clergy sexual abuse and the high recidivism rate for sexual abusers, particularly those who prey on young children. For instance, the report says that in November 1984, the same month Law assigned pedophile priest John J. Geoghan to St. Julia's parish in Weston, Law visited the Saint Luke Institute, a Maryland facility that provides counseling and treatment to sexually abusive priests.

During his visit, the report says, Law met with several priests from the Boston archdiocese, including one being treated for pedophilia, and conferred with the institute's staff about the treatment plan for that priest.

The report also says that in January 1986, Law discussed clergy sexual abuse and pedophilia with Dr. Thomas Kane, then director of the now-defunct House of Affirmation, a Massachusetts treatment center for priests.

In a follow-up letter to Law, Kane discussed the high recidivism rate of priests treated for pedophilia.

''In general practice, the clinical literature seems to support that there has been a great deal of recidivism among treated pedophiles,'' Kane said in his letter.

Reilly said his investigation focused on Law's tenure, from 1984 to 2002, because that was the period of time when it was most likely that evidence would be found that would allow charges to be brought against church leaders.

But Reilly said Law was only one in a succession of archbishops who shared the goal of protecting priests and keeping their misconduct secret to avoid embarrassment to the church.

''It was an institutional acceptance of the sexual abuse by members of the clergy that goes far back to before Cardinal Law,'' Reilly said yesterday.

''Time after time, decision after decision, when they were tested, when they were forced and faced with the choice between protecting children or protecting the reputation of the church and the priest abusers they chose secrecy. And they chose to protect the church at the expense of children,'' Reilly said. ''In effect, they sacrificed children for many, many years.''

In 1993, after Hanlon's indictment and allegations by scores of people against the Rev. James R. Porter in the Fall River diocese, Law approved a new policy that was designed to protect children and rein in abusive priests.

But even then, the report said, the church maintained its policy of secrecy. It turned aside suggestions from victims and a nun on Law's staff, Sister Catherine Mulkerrin, that parishes be notified when priests were accused so victims would come forward. And after priests were sent away for treatment, some were returned to ministry, allowed to wear clerical garb and their access to children was not monitored.

In at least four cases, priests continued to molest minors.

The church's top officials, Reilly said, ''didn't seem to recognize the wrongfulness of it.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 7/24/2003.
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