hide in plain sight; Living secret lives in our communities
By CASEY ROSS - The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, MA)
May 22, 2004
Law enforcement officials say priests accused of sexual abuse
constitute the largest group of unregistered sex offenders
in the nation, and some are warning that they have no way
to prevent more children from being abused.
We ask where they are now, and (church leaders)
say, We don't know where they go after they've been
removed from ministry,''' Bristol County District Attorney
Paul Walsh said this week. It's as if they're
saying, they're your problem now, not ours.'''
Two years after prosecutors began reviewing lists of priests
accused of sexual abuse, only a handful of those priests have
been criminally charged, and dozens more are living in Massachusetts
communities without the knowledge of neighbors or police.
Prosecutors say they could not bring charges against most
priests because the statute of limitations had run out on
their alleged crimes. In other cases, they were unable to
The Romney administration was warned of the building threat
posed by accused priests this week by Catholic lay groups
who spoke during a meeting of the governor's commission on
domestic violence and sexual abuse.
While acknowledging the danger, an official with the Executive
Office of Public Safety said the administration will not force
the release of names without legal proof that priests have
abused in the past.
There is a delicate balance that needs to be struck
to make people safe without erroneously maligning potentially
innocent people,'' spokeswoman Katie Ford said.
The administration is open to seeing a proposal
on any changes that need to be made. We're always looking
for ways to make the law stronger.''
Catholic leaders in Massachusetts have declined to publicly
identify priests who were accused of abuse but never criminally
charged because their cases were too old or witnesses could
not be located. Attempts to get comment from the Boston Archdiocese
this week were unsuccessful.
In February, the archdiocese released a report saying 162
of its priests have been accused of sexual abuse in the past
50 years, but lawyers for abuse victims and others estimate
the numbers are much higher.
Officials within the archdiocese have refused to identify
accused priests despite the fact that other large dioceses
- in Baltimore, Los Angles and Tucson, Ariz. - have released
the names to provide a full accounting of the scandal.
An attorney for sexual abuse victims said the Boston Archdiocese's
refusal could lead to more abuse.
These priests represent an enormous danger,''
said Carmen Durso of Weymouth, a lawyer for about 100 abuse
victims. They are people who are very adept at
what they do. The fact that it takes so long for victims to
come forward is a tribute to their skill as predators.''
Many names of priests accused of abuse have been released
by victims lawyers in the past two years, but a complete list
has not been released. Catholic lay groups say the inability
to track accused priest means they can turn up at schools,
summer camps and other settings where they can continue to
Outside the church, the only officials with access to the
names of accused priests are district attorneys, and most
say they have an obligation to withhold the names unless they
can press charges.
Since the abuse scandal broke only a handful of alleged abusers
- Paul Shanley, John Geoghan, Robert Gale and a few others
- have been criminally charged. Most escaped prosecution because
the statue of limitations - 15 years for serious sexual crimes
- ran out before law enforcement became aware of their cases.
District Attorneys in Norfolk and Plymouth counties said that
while they have vigorously pursued charges, they will not
release the names of accused priests unless they were successful
in building criminal cases.
I've had people literally walk off the street
into my office and tell us about being abused, and those stories
always affect you,'' Plymouth County District Attorney Timothy
Cruz said this week. But we have to be objective
and professional and make our decisions based on the law.''
Walsh was the only district attorney to publicly identify
accused priests. In 2002, he listed the names of 20 priests
accused of sexual misconduct, saying he was prompted to act
by the church's secrecy and failure to cooperate with his
We broke a rule by disclosing these names,'' Walsh
said this week. And we broke it because this situation
is different. We did not get a chance to prosecute these people
because this information was kept from us. ... These priests
should not benefit from the church's wrongdoing.''
At the time he released the names, Walsh also announced charges
against the Rev. Donald J. Bowen, a priest in the Fall River
diocese who was accused of continually sexually abusing a
girl for seven years when she was between the ages of 9 and
Walsh said investigators in his office discovered that Bowen
had been working for a Boston-based religious order in Bolivia
for 30 years. Because he was living outside the country, the
statute of limitations on his alleged offenses did not expire.
When we looked up the web site of his religious
order the first image that popped up was father Bowen surrounded
by a group of children,'' Walsh said.
Catholic lay groups said they have discovered accused priests
substitute teaching at Massachusetts high schools, working
at Boston hotels and living in communities from Brockton to
Falmouth to Cambridge.
They are out there with money and tons of time
on their hands and a continued sexual attraction to children,''
Anne Barrett Doyle, co-founder of the Coalition of Catholics
& Survivors, the organization that brought concerns to
the Romney administration this week. It's a very
dangerous set of circumstances.''
Cruz said he shares the frustration of lay groups and other
law enforcement officials about the threat posed by the accused
priests but said he would not publicly identify them unless
they had clearly admitted their abuse.
He said much of the information he received from church officials
on the accused priests was sketchy and incomplete, and most
of it was also decades old.
I'll never forget the day the information came
to us,'' he said. There were cases from 30 and
40 years ago, some from before I was born. They were impossible
to prosecute not only because of the statute of limitations
but because there were no witnesses.''
Casey Ross may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright 2004 The Patriot Ledger