A mostly encouraging report

After a 16 month investigation, the office of Attorney General Thomas Reilly released its report “The Sexual Abuse of Children in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston” July 23.

The report includes both findings and opinions. After a preliminary review of the report, we must generally agree with its findings although we have some reservations about some of the opinions expressed in it.

In the report, the attorney general described the main objectives of the investigation: “(1) To determine whether children still were being sexually abused, or were at risk of being sexually abused by priests and other church workers; (2) To determine whether the conduct of the archdiocese and its managers in responding to allegations of sexual abuse, or failing to prevent sexual abuse, was criminal and, if so, whether prosecution was appropriate and not time-barred by the statute of limitations, and ; (3) to use all available means to ensure that children would be protected in the future.”

As for the first objective, no evidence could be produced of recent or ongoing sexual abuse of children. This, at least, is an encouraging finding. Of course, no one can assure that some instance of abuse has not taken place recently or will not happen in the future, but this at least suggests that some good may have come out of the Church’s evolving response to the issue, and confirms that most reports do indeed concern old allegations.

In the case of the second objective, the attorney general found that he could not produce “evidence sufficient to charge the archdiocese or its senior managers with crimes under applicable state law.”

The report reads “the investigation did not produce evidence that senior archdiocese managers encouraged priests to abuse children, intended that priests would abuse children, intended to obstruct justice by helping abusive priests avoid arrest or punishment, interfered with the testimony or role of a witness in a judicial proceeding or entered into unlawful agreements. Nor there is evidence that the archdiocese benefited by priests sexually abusing children.”

However, the report found that “widespread sexual abuse of children was due to an institutional acceptance of abuse and a massive and pervasive failure of leadership.”

This confirms what we at The Pilot have consistently said, that the issue was one of a protective culture, that tended to place the interests of priests over those of victims. As time passed, however, the Church — along with society and the medical profession — came to understand the true depth of the suffering abuse causes in victims. As wrong as those decisions were, criminal intent was not part of the equation, as it has often been implied. That, too, is an encouraging finding.

As for its third objective, the report does not offer concrete findings, but instead revolves around an opinionated statement offered as part of its conclusion. It states that “the archdiocese has yet to demonstrate a commitment to reform proportionally to the tragedy it perpetrated. The archdiocese must live that commitment through its policies and demonstrated practices.”

It is unjust to disregard all the effort put forth by the archdiocese to confront the scandal. Though much remains to be done, much is in progress. It is sad that Reilly chose to take a hard line on this issue, when other concerned officials and individuals scrutinizing the issue, such as former FBI official Kathleen McChesney and former governor Frank Keating (who is not known for his deference to Church officials) have publicly praised the archdiocese’s efforts to implement policies and procedures to protect children. In their view, the Boston archdiocese is ahead of most other dioceses in dealing with the protection of children.

The archdiocese of Boston is about to turn a page in her history with the installation of Archbishop Seán O’Malley July 30. We hope to move beyond the era in which egregious mistakes were made.

The timing of the report’s release may indeed help the process of healing and reconciliation, since the attorney general’s findings confirm that sexual abuse of minors by clergy is not an ongoing problem and that those who were in charge of dealing with it in the past — while their practices and procedures were inadequate to say the least, and showed a “massive and pervasive failure of leadership” — did not demonstrate a criminal intent.

As for future measures to protect children, the policies and practices being implemented in parishes and schools will only succeed in so far as they are supported by the faithful of the archdiocese. It is up to us all.