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Spotlight Report

Victim advocates seek federal probe

To pursue leaders who failed to stop clergy sex abuse

By Eddy Ramirez, Globe Correspondent, 7/29/2003

Less than a week after the state attorney general announced that Massachusetts laws precluded a criminal prosecution of church leaders, lay Catholic reform groups and alleged victims yesterday called for a federal investigation into the Archdiocese of Boston's handling of clergy sexual abuse.

The group members and alleged victims delivered a two-page letter to US Attorney Michael J. Sullivan requesting a review of federal conspiracy or racketeering statutes under which accused bishops and priests might be prosecuted. They also voiced support for proposed bills that would eliminate the statute of limitations for both civil and criminal sex abuse cases.

"The Catholic lobby has done an amazing job of keeping the laws weak when it comes to mandatory reporting, statute of limitations, and criminal accountability in regards to a personal injury that they have made into a plague," said John W. Harris Jr., an alleged victim of clergy sexual abuse, outside US District Court. "On this day, I invite Mr. Sullivan to take that first step and meet with us to give us a new sense of hope."

Samantha Martin, a spokeswoman for Sullivan, acknowledged receiving the letter, as well as a copy of Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly's report on the archdiocese's handling of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

Except to say that the office will review the materials, Martin declined to comment on whether the federal government could prosecute church leaders accused of covering up clergy sexual abuse.

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, called the request for a federal investigation "unnecessary."

"The investigation by the state attorney general was very thorough, and failed to find any indication of criminal action or criminal intent," Coyne said in a telephone interview. "A federal investigation would obviously bring forth the same finding."

Released last Wednesday, Reilly's 76-page report found that a "staggering" number of people -- possibly 1,000 or more -- were probably sexually abused by clergy in the past six decades and that there was an institutional acceptance of abuse within the archdiocese in that time. It called the abuse of children "so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable."

But Reilly found that under existing state laws, Cardinal Bernard F. Law and other church leaders who allegedly participated in the clergy abuse coverup cannot be successfully prosecuted.

Eddy Ramirez can be reached at

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 7/29/2003.
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