Clerical Sexual Abuse Scandal Widens in Boston Archdiocese
By Chuck Colbert, National Catholic Reporter
February 8, 2002
The ever-expanding scandal of clerical sex abuse reported here
-- unraveling in newspapers, radio and television broadcasts --
widened last week to include claims against many more priests, including
many accused of sexual abuse in the past.
The Boston archdiocese has received heavy criticism since Jan.
9, when The Boston Globes Spotlight Team published
a comprehensive history of the allegations of child sex abuse against
former priest John Geoghan, and the handling of those charges by
the archdiocese. Geoghan, convicted of assault of a 10-year-old
boy this January, faces trial, to begin Feb. 20, for rape of a 7-year-old.
He also faces more than 80 civil suits accusing him of child sex
abuse (NCR, Feb. 1).
Ordained in 1962, he was retired from active ministry in 1994.
He was involuntarily laicized in 1998.
On Jan 31, The Boston Globes Spotlight Team made
banner headlines again: Scores of priests involved in sex
abuse cases. The lead sentence of the new investigative report
reads: Under an extraordinary cloak of secrecy, the archdiocese
of Boston in the last 10 years has quietly settled child molestation
claims against at least 70 priests.
The Globe report goes on to say that out-of-court settlements
kept the scope of the issue out of the public eye. The Globe
reported, Although the settlements are secret, the churchs
annual directories, which list where priests are assigned, are public.
From them, the Globe developed a database to track assignments of
clergy, and those data strongly suggest that large numbers of priests
were involved in sexual abuse cases that were settled.
That front-page story hit newsstands, doorsteps, and the papers
Web page, along with reports that officials of the local archdiocese
gave names of dozens of priests suspected of pedophilia in the past
to law enforcement officials, including district attorneys and local
chiefs of police.
The Globe published a list of 24 convicted and accused
of sexual misconduct, citing them as clergy identified through
pending lawsuits, publicly settled lawsuits, confirmed private settlements,
criminal charges, and church officials.
On the same day, moreover, The Boston Herald, the citys other
daily newspaper, ran a front-page story, Church IDs
40 years of alleged pedophile priests. That story reported
that six district attorneys and several police chiefs were
given the identities of suspected pedophiles, but not their alleged
The Herald reported the reaction of one victim, Joseph Parker,
of Haverhill, Mass., who says that a former priest molested him
Its a tremendous sense of validation. When you live
with this alone for such a long time, to finally have some verification
of it is liberating, Parker said
Yet another Herald story, headlined Handling of clergymen
by archdiocese, reported that in reviewing four decades of
accusations alleging clerical sexual misconduct -- information provided
by local diocesan officials themselves and gleaned from court files
-- a pattern emerges. Most cases fit the same patterns: Allegations,
reassignment, brief respites for care, further postings, more allegations,
in some cases defrocking, suits and hidden settlements for the victims
to keep the matter within church walls, according to the Herald.
The story came a few days after Cardinal Bernard Law, in a policy
reversal, announced that he would turn over names to law enforcement
officials of former priests accused of sexual misconduct with minors.
Initially, the archdiocese was reluctant to report, retroactively,
cases of alleged misconduct.
But as the local scandal unfolded in the following weeks, Law changed
As I reflect on this whole issue, from the perspective of
the child, I believe that everything that can possibly be done to
protect a child from that kind of abuse must be done, Law
said at a news conference Jan. 25.
By Jan. 30, Law delivered on his pledge to turn over the names
of suspects. As the archdiocese handed over names of clergy members
suspected of sexually abusing minors, a spokesperson for the cardinal,
Donna M. Morrissey said that none of the individuals being
reported is currently in active service in the archdiocese.
On Jan. 26, Law released an open letter, a comprehensive response
to the scandal, to members of the archdiocese. Key points included
detection and deterrence of sexual abuse, education regarding it,
continuing pastoral care for victims and their families, and legal
So far, Law refuses to consider stepping down as head of the archdiocese.
He compared the relationship between himself and the local church
The relationship between bishop and his diocese, in our case
between me and this archdiocese, is a sacred and serious one. It
seeks to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church
in much the same way as the Sacrament of Matrimony does. The bishops
ring, like the wedding ring, symbolizes the commitment and love
of the bishop to the faithful of his diocese, Law wrote.
The letter also spoke of his grief and sorrow. With humble
sorrow and hopeful faith, I turn to our loving God and to you, the
faithful of this archdiocese, and seek your forgiveness and support.
Meanwhile, local newspaper columnists continue to call Law to task.
Boston Globe op-ed page columnist Joan Vennochi, for example, in
her Jan. 29 column headlined Archbishop in name only,
wrote that Law has lost his moral authority, adding,
Cardinal Law can stay or go
it really doesnt
Taking aim at the church with a broad stroke of the pen, she went
on to say, It [the church] is rigid, unyielding and unwilling
to compromise. It turns a deaf ear to members of the flock who beg
to be heard. Now the flock is applying the same unyielding standard
to a cardinal. Parishioners reared on the sacrament of penance may
forgive. But they will not accept Law as a figure of moral authority.
That op-ed struck a chord with one woman, a divorced and remarried
Catholic, who said, Vennochi got that right. Rigid, unyielding,
and unwilling to compromise -- if Law will not accept me as a member
in good standing, I will not accept him!
Yet one columnist for the Herald, Joe Fitzgerald, wrote on Jan.
30 a more supportive response to Laws handling of the pedophilia
He is the corporate face of a very embarrassed church, but
that does not make him guilty of anything other than what he claims
to be, which is profoundly sorry for all the damage
that has been done.
Chuck Colbert is a freelance writer who lives in Cambridge,
National Catholic Reporter, February 8, 2002