Attorney general issues report on clergy sexual abuse

Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly, issued a scathing 76-page report entitled “The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston,” July 23. The report details the findings of his office’s 16-month investigation into the handling of sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy, calling the scandal “the greatest tragedy to befall children in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts ever.” While Reilly’s report found that top Church officials were aware of the abuse and tried to keep it secret, no criminal charges can be filed because child-protection laws in existence at the time were too weak.

"What we have found, what we have learned and what we have documented in the course of this investigation borders on the unbelievable," said Reilly. "No one is more disappointed than I and my staff that we cannot bring criminal charges against top management."

Reilly stated that the decisions made by Cardinal Bernard Law, former Archbishop of Boston, and his top aides “did not rise to the level of criminal intent… it was not a close call.”

The report was the result of a grand jury investigation that combined the resources of Reilly’s Criminal Bureau and the Public Protection Bureau. The investigation had three main objectives:

to determine whether children were still being sexually abused or where at risk of being abused by priests or Church employees;

to determine whether the conduct of Church officials when responding to allegations of sexual abuse or failing to prevent future abuse was criminal;

to use all available measures to ensure that children would be protected in the future.

The report stated that since 1940, 237 priests and 13 Church employees allegedly abused at least 789 children. Of the 250 priests and Church workers, 202 allegedly abused children between 1940 and 1984, with the remaining 48 allegedly abusing children during Cardinal Law’s tenure as archbishop.

"The magnitude of it is simply staggering... I have no doubt that the number [of victims] is far greater," said Reilly, noting that the figures were taken from the Archdiocese of Boston's own records.

The report attributes the “massive” number of incidents of clergy sexual abuse to an “institutional reluctance to adequately address the problem” and to the “secrecy” involved — transferring priests without notifying the parish or diocese that there was a history of abuse. The attorney general urged the Church to be more open in the future and to communicate with the laity, with the priests in the archdiocese, with interreligious leaders and with public officials.

Reilly called the conduct of the Church leadership “while not criminal… absolutely deplorable.”

Reilly was firm in stating that those in leadership positions over the past six decades were aware that abuse was occurring. The report states that Cardinal Law and the majority of his senior managers “preserved the culture of acceptance of child sexual abuse within the archdiocese.”

"They knew full well that children were being sexually abused," said Reilly. "Yet time after time... when they were forced and faced with the choice between protecting children and 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."

Top officials whose conduct is detailed in the report include Cardinal Law, Bishop Thomas Daily, Bishop Robert Banks, Archbishop Alfred Hughes, Bishop William Murphy and Bishop John McCormack.

Reilly noted that some of these Church leaders are still in “positions of responsibility” in other dioceses. He said that the Church should reexamine whether those officials should remain in top positions.

The investigation did not find evidence of recent or ongoing sexual abuse of children in the archdiocese. However, Reilly stopped short of attributing this to the child protection efforts undertaken by the Archdiocese of Boston.

"The archdiocese has yet to demonstrate a commitment to the protection of children that is proportional to the harm committed over the decades," stated Reilly. The archdiocese he said must display this commitment not only through its policies, but also through its actions.

The report stated that “vigilant oversight” of the archdiocese’s efforts to protect children would be necessary until the Church in Boston “clearly and unmistakably” demonstrates:

the understanding that it is criminal to sexually abuse a child;

an end to the culture of secrecy;

that comprehensive and effective measures have been adopted and implemented to prevent the sexual abuse of children;

that allegations of child sexual abuse are responded to appropriately;

that the archdiocese is accountable for ensuring the protection of children.

He noted that the most important step in protecting children already has been taken by the state legislature — making Church officials mandated reporters.

In closing, Reilly explained that timing of the report’s release was related to the upcoming change in leadership of the archdiocese. Archbishop Seán O’Malley is set to be installed as Archbishop of Boston July 30.

"It is my hope that this report will draw a clear line between the past and a hopeful future," he said.

Following the attorney general’s press conference, Father Christopher Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese, met with the media at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End and read a statement from the archdiocese.

Father Coyne stated that before the archdiocese can respond to the 76-page report, the document’s finding and recommendation must be carefully reviewed.

According to the statement, the archdiocese “reiterates its commitment” to demonstrate the points mentioned in the report. The archdiocese “will treat sexual abuse of a child as a criminal matter; that it will end any culture of secrecy in the handling of such matters; that it will adopt and implement comprehensive and effective measures to prevent child abuse; that the archdiocese will appropriately respond to any allegations of abuse; and that the archdiocese is committed to work at every level to ensure the safety of children,” the statement said.

The statement went on to express the archdiocese’s willingness to work with the proper authorities to improve its policies so that they meet the attorney general’s standards.

"The archdiocese believes that it has already taken substantial steps in those directions and is willing to work with interested parties, including the Attorney General's office, to improve the present policies and procedures that have been issued to ensure the safety of children within the archdiocese," the statement read. "As always, we ask all to continue to pray and work for reconciliation and healing within the Archdiocese of Boston."

One of the few prominent Catholics to speak out publicly during the height of the sexual abuse scandal, former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican and Boston mayor Ray Flynn reacted to the attorney general’s report. In a statement made to The Pilot, Flynn reiterated that he has consistently predicted that criminal charges would not be brought against Boston Church officials.

"That's not because serious mistakes were not made in dealing with the pedophile priests but, as I said then, Cardinal Law never assigned a priest to a parish who he believed would intentionally harm a young child," Flynn said.

"I am pleased with the attorney general's decision because, to do otherwise, would cause further pain to the victims [by dragging out the settlement process and possibly preventing financial settlement] who have already suffered enough...Let's let Archbishop O'Malley do his job and bring justice to the victims and healing to our Church," added Flynn.