Church impedes state probe into abuse, MA A.G.
By Walter V. Robinson and Sacha Pfeiffer, Globe Staff
December 11, 2002
Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly said last night that the
Archdiocese of Boston has been using ''every tool and maneuver''
to impede a criminal investigation by his office that he said
has documented an ''elaborate and decades-long'' scheme by
the church to cover up crimes of sexual abuse by priests.
Reilly declined to say how his office has responded to the
archdiocesan tactics. But law enforcement officials, who declined
to be identified, said Reilly's investigators have had to
use grand jury subpoenas to get at church documents - despite
public pledges by church officials to cooperate with the attorney
Asked in an interview whether Cardinal Bernard F. Law has
received a subpoena to testify before a grand jury, Reilly
said: ''No comment.''
Reilly said the church has given the public a false impression
that it is cooperating with prosecutors. In fact, he said,
''the archdiocese has used every tool and maneuver available
to them to keep us from the facts we need to come to a resolution
of this investigation.''
He added: ''We have to fight them for everything we get ...
The level of cooperation is nowhere near what it should be,
given the magnitude of the crimes against children and the
fact that we are dealing with a religious institution.''
Donna M. Morrissey, the spokeswoman for the archdiocese,
did not return telephone calls last night.
In the interview, Reilly said Massachusetts law makes it
difficult to bring criminal charges for the conduct of those,
like Law, who supervised the scores of priests who have been
accused of sexually molesting children.
Unlike New Hampshire, which used a child endangerment law
to force the Diocese of Manchester yesterday to admit to wrongdoing
on the same issue, Reilly said Massachusetts has no such statute.
''The facts we have are powerful. The facts are not the problem.
The legal tools are the problem,'' Reilly said.
''We have found that there was an elaborate scheme to keep
these crimes from prosecutors, to keep the people who committed
these crimes from being held criminally accountable,'' Reilly
said. What church leaders did, he said, may not be criminally
prosecutable because, at the time, they were not legally obligated
to report the sexual abuse. But he said the details about
the coverup are ''devastating, powerful, and disgusting.''
Reilly said that much of what his office has learned has
been publicly reported through civil lawsuits. But other evidence
has yet to become public, he said.
Both the church's response to his investigation and what
it has uncovered, Reilly said, are ''profoundly disturbing.''
Sparked by the church scandal, legislators have passed a
new law requiring members of the clergy to report evidence
of abuse to authorities. Tomorrow, another law will take effect,
making it a criminal misdemeanor for any adult who ''wantonly
or recklessly fails to take reasonable steps'' to prevent
injury or sexual abuse to a child.
But prosecutors and legal specialists said it is still difficult
to bring criminal charges against Law and other bishops. Middlesex
District Attorney Martha Coakley said that the statute of
limitations makes it problematic enough to prosecute the abusive
Even if the supervisors' actions were within the statute
of limitations, Coakley said, ''there are very few instances
where criminal law punishes negligence.'' Coakley said it
is difficult to make the case that Law and others intended
for priests to rape children.
Charles W. Rankin, a Boston defense attorney who has followed
the cases, said the disclosures ''portray even more than negligence,
and perhaps total indifference. But you have to go far beyond
that in order to charge someone with a crime who didn't actually
commit the crime.''
Walter Robinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story ran on page A38 of the Boston Globe on 12/11/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.