Law Indictment Seen Unlikely
Some would like grand jury to call for legal
By Kevin Cullen, Boston Globe, 6/20/2002
Legal analysts say a recently convened grand jury will be
hard pressed to file criminal charges against Cardinal Bernard
F. Law and other church leaders for failing to prevent the
sexual abuse of minors.
But a New York grand jury that just concluded a similar investigation
may serve as a model for Massachusetts and other jurisdictions
where authorities are frustrated in efforts to bring criminal
charges against those who allegedly put children in a position
to be abused.
While state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly has convened
a grand jury to decide whether Law and other church leaders
should be held criminally liable for their refusal or inability
to control predatory priests, many legal analysts, and even
Reilly himself, have complained that Massachusetts laws make
that prospect virtually impossible.
In New York, rather than just say they found no evidence
to support criminal charges against abusive priests and their
supervisors, grand jurors in Westchester County took the unusual
step this week of recommending that the state Legislature
change laws so that the evidence that they heard would lead
to criminal charges in the future.
In an interview, Westchester County District Attorney Jeanine
Pirro said she would not be surprised if the grand jury convened
by Reilly faces the same problems the grand jury she convened
April 29 confronted - a statute of limitations that does not
account for the years it typically takes children to talk
about abuse at the hands of authority figures - and the absence
of laws that hold supervisors accountable for the criminal
activities of their subordinates.
Pirro said the extraordinary 13-page report issued by the
Westchester grand jury should serve as a blueprint for change.
''The grand jury spoke for many in our society who are saying,
`You won't get away with this again,''' said Pirro.
The idea of using a grand jury as a voice of ordinary people
demanding change intrigues some at the attorney general's
office, where prosecutors are pessimistic about their chances
of charging Law and other church supervisors with a crime.
Ann E. Donlan, a spokeswoman for Reilly, said the attorney
general's office was researching whether a Massachusetts grand
jury can be something more than a body to evaluate evidence
and issue indictments.
Donna M. Morrissey, Law's spokeswoman, who on Tuesday said
she was unaware that Reilly had convened a grand jury before
the Globe asked her about it, yesterday issued a statement
saying, ''We respect the right of the Attorney General to
pursue the investigation with any means that are appropriate.''
She declined to elaborate.
Law enforcement sources familiar with the grand jury said
it has, so far, focused primarily on assembling a paper trail,
charting how the archdiocese responded to allegations against
abusive priests, and that witnesses have not yet been called.
Those sources said that the chances of criminal charges against
Law and other supervisors, including Bishop John McCormack
of Manchester, N.H., who was one of Law's top deputies before
becoming a bishop, appear remote.
Pirro said her prosecutors and the grand jurors were frustrated
that they could not bring charges against abusive priests
and their supervisors in the cases of eight victims because
the statute of limitations had elapsed, and because New York
has no law holding supervisors criminally liable for the crimes
Legal analysts say Reilly and prosecutors face a similar
set of circumstances because Massachusetts laws on conspiracy
and being an accessory to a crime require someone not simply
to be negligent but to share a criminal intent.
Specifically, the grand jury recommended that the New York
Legislature eliminate the statute of limitations for crimes
involving the sexual abuse of minors, that clergy be included
among those mandated to report suspected sexual abuse to the
police, that reckless supervision ''of employees known to
have harmed children result in criminal penalties,'' and that
confidentiality agreements in civil suits brought against
sexual abusers be eliminated.
''This particular form of abuse, the evidence demonstrated,
had a unique impact on the vulnerable victims involved, because
of the position of religious authority held by their abusers,''
the grand jury wrote. ''The legislative changes proposed are
also designed to remedy what the evidence has shown to be
a systematic failure by the religious institution that these
clergy members serve to respond appropriately when receiving
a report of this activity.''
In May, in response to the clergy sexual abuse scandal, Massachusetts
law was changed to include clergy as mandated reporters. But
the New York grand jury goes further in its recommendation,
saying that failure to report abuse would be a felony; in
Massachusetts, it is a misdemeanor.
State Senator Marian Walsh, once Law's key legislative ally,
was so furious over his handling of abusive priests that she
filed a bill that would hold supervisors criminally liable
if they knowingly put someone in a position where they could
abuse children. But the bill has languished on Beacon Hill,
dogged by language problems and opposed by private industry.
Wendy Murphy, a former prosecutor who now represents victims
of sexual abuse and who is a professor at the New England
School of Law, has long advocated that Massachusetts eliminate
the statute of limitations in cases of sexual abuse because
children typically do not come forward for many years. But
Murphy said there has been little appetite for changing that
law in a Legislature in which committees that handle legal
issues are dominated by criminal defense attorneys.
Murphy said that while Connecticut has a statute that specifically
allows for grand juries to issue reports, Massachusetts does
''But there is nothing to prevent a Massachusetts grand jury
from doing so,'' said Murphy. ''The grand jury is the voice
of the people, a democratic vehicle. If this grand jury comes
out and says, `We can't believe the evidence presented to
us doesn't amount to a crime,' and if the Legislature doesn't
listen to that voice, then the General Court is useless.''
As Reilly and his staff look for the ''smoking gun'' that
would elevate the enabling behavior of bishops to criminal
activity, Pirro said the evidence presented in Westchester
''showed that these cases were handled in a consistent, parallel
manner by the church, suggesting there was a policy'' to hide
evidence of crimes and dissuade victims from going to police.
Pirro said that apparent policy applies to the church's handling
of similar cases all over the United States.
If there was a policy, and it was written down, says Murphy,
''that is a smoking gun.''
This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 6/20/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.