National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  August 1, 2003

Report details six decades of abuse in Boston

Attorney general: Archdiocese fostered institutional acceptance of abuse


The Massachusetts attorney general’s report detailing six decades of Boston archdiocesan malfeasance related to priests who molested minors offers a blistering critique of former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law’s 18-year tenure, while placing much of the blame for the catastrophe on deputies later promoted to run dioceses of their own.

“The mistreatment of children was so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable,” says the July 23 report of Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly. More than 1,000 minors were likely abused by priests over the past six decades, according to the 76-page account.

For more than 50 years, says the report, “there has been an institutional acceptance within the archdiocese of clergy sexual abuse of children.” Said Reilly: “For decades cardinals, bishops and others in positions of authority within the archdiocese chose to protect the image and reputation of their institution rather than the safety and well-being of children.”

Reilly declined to indict Law or other Boston archdiocesan an administrators, saying his 16-month investigation did not uncover evidence that would merit prosecution under the laws in effect at the time. Additional child protection statutes enacted in the past year, said the report, provide “much more effective tools” for prosecutors seeking “to hold accountable those responsible for placing children at risk of sexual abuse.”

Cardinal Richard Cushing
-- CNS Photos
Cardinal Humberto Medeiros Cardinal Bernard Law

Among the chief culprits identified: Law and his predecessors, Cardinals Humberto Medeiros and Richard Cushing, and the Boston auxiliary bishops and administrators responsible for handling charges of abuse against clergy.

Specifically, the report charges that:

Auxiliary Bishop Robert Banks, vicar for administration in the archdiocese from 1984-90, was “not candid” with law enforcement authorities investigating abuse allegations against Fr. John Geoghan. Further, Banks supported leniency for another priest, Fr. Eugene O’Sullivan, “even though he knew, but failed to disclose, that O’Sullivan had abused other children and that the court was unaware of those other victims.” Banks, the bishop of Green Bay, Wis., since 1990, “clearly preferred to keep priests who sexually abused children in pastoral ministry and generally refrained from restricting their ministerial duties if the priest received a positive evaluation by medical personnel, even if other medical experts had cautioned the archdiocese against returning the priest to ministerial duties.” In a statement following release of the report Banks said, “While well-intentioned at the time, I deeply regret that I did not act more decisively in taking out of ministry those who abused our children and young people.”

Auxiliary Bishop Alfred Hughes, vicar for administration from 1990-93, knew of additional accusations against a priest charged with abuse but “never disclosed this new information” despite “the fact that the criminal investigators and prosecutors reached out directly” to him. Hughes is currently archbishop of New Orleans.

Auxiliary Bishop William Murphy, vicar for administration from 1993-2001, “did not report to law enforcement any of the numerous allegations of clergy sexual abuse he reviewed nor did he ever advise the cardinal to do so.” Murphy, named bishop of Rockville Centre in 2001, also “helped place” a priest accused of molesting children in the archdiocesan office responsible for investigating such complaints. In a July 2 statement published in The Long Island Catholic, Murphy said that during his years in Boston he was “not involved in handling allegations made against priests and I was not involved in recommending the assignment of any such priest to pastoral ministry where he might have contact with minors.”

In at least four cases, John McCormack -- currently bishop of Manchester, N.H., but then secretary for ministerial personnel in Boston -- “was aware that the priest[s] had abused children and yet he failed to take adequate steps to restrict their ministries or put them under adequate supervision to prevent them from engaging in further abuse.”

As vicar for administration under Medeiros, Bishop Thomas V. Daily “had a clear preference for keeping priests who sexually abused children in pastoral ministry and generally followed a practice of transferring those priests without supervision or notification to new parishes rather than removing them from pastoral ministry.” Daily, now bishop of Brooklyn, N.Y., “apparently did not believe that a priest who engaged in such misconduct was apt to engage in such conduct in the future.”

Law, meanwhile, “had direct knowledge of the scope, duration and severity of the crisis experienced by children in the archdiocese” and “participated directly in crucial decisions concerning the assignment of abusive priests.”

Reilly’s investigation “did not produce evidence of recent or ongoing sexual abuse of children” in the archdiocese, but the attorney general was critical of some of the child-protection steps taken by the archdiocese over the past year. Given the time it takes for children to report abuse and the shame associated with being a victim, it is “too soon” to judge whether those measures will be effective, says the report.

Related Web Site

"The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston:
A Report by the Attorney General"

National Catholic Reporter, August 1, 2003

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