1,000 Boston Church Abuse Victims

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1,000 Boston Church Abuse Victims

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By: Anonymous

Date: July 23, 2003

Source: CBS News/Associated Press. "1,000 Boston Church Abuse Victims." 〈http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2003/07/21/national/main564121.shtml〉 (accessed: March 2, 2006).

About the Author: This article was written by an Associated Press writer and published on the CBS News Web site. The Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) was founded in 1927 as a radio network. It later came to incorporate television channels, magazines, and publishing divisions under its name. Like most broadcast organizations, CBS set up an Internet service in the 1990s. The source is syndicated from the Associated Press, the world's largest newsgathering agency.


The latter years of Pope John Paul II's papacy (1978–2005) were consumed by global allegations of institutional child abuse within the Catholic Church. Most high-profile in Canada, the Republic of Ireland, and the United States, the well-publicized charges took on a similar complexion wherever they were made: that Catholic clergy (and in some cases laymen) had sexually and physically abused children in their care; and in some instances Bishops and other senior clergy had been aware of abuse and deliberately covered up the crimes, or given primacy to Canon law over the secular criminal justice system. Throughout the late 1990s and early twenty-first century, hundreds of lawsuits were filed against Catholic dioceses worldwide. Although not all stood up before a court of law, the political and financial implications for the Catholic Church were devastating, with a number of bishops forced to resign and several dioceses left facing bankruptcy.

In the United States, where the scandal would have its most devastating impact, more than two hundred of its 46,000 priests were forced to resign or removed from their ministries within six months of the revelations of sexual misconduct emerging in the press in 2002. In May of that year, Pope John Paul II summoned America's twelve Cardinals to the Vatican to discuss the matter. The meeting was unprecedented but seemed to produce no new policy, despite Pope John Paul deploring sexual abuse.

It was the revelations from the diocese of Boston that were most damaging, however. Cardinal Bernard Law's way of resolving the issue of disgraced priests had essentially been to merely move them to other parishes (although he later claimed that he sought the advice of psychiatrists, clinicians, and therapists before deciding whether a priest accused of sexually abusing a child should be returned to the pulpit). Like many of his contemporaries, he viewed such behavior as an internal disciplinary matter and not one for the secular authorities. Law was found to have systematically failed to alert civil authorities or parishioners. As a result, many of the priests guilty of sexual abuse simply reoffended.

Revelations about Cardinal Law's inaction resulted in his resignation as Boston's Archbishop in December 2002. For many victims, however, this was not enough and there was a widespread belief that he should be prosecuted for criminal negligence. Although he was subpoenaed in the subsequent investigation by the Massachusetts Attorney General, criminal charges were not made against him because of a lack of evidence. Law was later appointed to an administrative role within the Vatican and remains one of the Catholic church's most senior Cardinals.


(CBS/AP)—Clergy members and others in the Boston Archdiocese likely sexually abused more than 1,000 people over a period of six decades, Massachusetts' attorney general said Wednesday, calling the scandal so massive it "borders on the unbelievable."

The report, the result of a grand jury investigation that explored whether church hierarchy should be charged criminally for turning a blind eye to allegations of abuse, said the archdiocese received complaints from 789 alleged victims, involving more than 250 clergy and other workers.

However, when other sources are considered, the attorney general said, the abuse likely affected more than 1,000 victims from 1940 until today.

Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned as archbishop last December, "bears the ultimate responsibility for the tragic treatment of children that occurred during his tenure," Attorney General Tom Reilly said in the 91-page report.

"But by no means does he bear sole responsibility. With rare exception, none of his senior managers advised him to take any of the steps that might have ended the systemic abuse of children."

The sheer number of abuse allegations documented by investigators in Boston appears unprecedented, even amid a scandal that has touched dioceses in virtually every state and has prompted about 1,000 people to come forward with new allegations nationwide in the last year.

"The mistreatment of children was so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable," Reilly said in his cover letter to the report.

Despite the attorney general's scathing remarks about what he called an "institutional acceptance of abuse," no charges are to be filed because child-protection laws in place while abuses were taking place were too weak.

Word had leaked out earlier in the week that church officials were unlikely to be charged, prompting a protest by alleged victims at Reilly's Boston office on Tuesday.

"How dare there be no indictments," said Kathleen Dwyer, 58, who said she was sexually abused by a priest at her church in Braintree in the early 1950s, when she was 7 years old. She was among two dozen protesters who demonstrated outside the attorney general's office.

One protester carried a sign that read, "They let children be raped. Their punishment: NOTHING."

The investigation did not uncover any evidence of recent or ongoing sexual abuse of children. But Reilly said the investigation didn't find any information that would explain the drop-off in recent complaints.

"Given the magnitude of mistreatment and the fact that the archdiocese's response over the past 18 months remains inadequate, it is far too soon to conclude that the abuse has, in fact, stopped or could not reoccur in the future."

The report is the culmination of a 16-month investigation into how church leaders handled the scandal.

"They chose to protect the image and reputation of their institution rather than the safety and well-being of the children entrusted to their care. They acted with a misguided devotion to secrecy," the report says in its conclusion. "And they failed to break their code of silence even when the magnitude of what had occurred would have alerted any reasonable, responsible manager that help was needed."

Law resigned in December after nearly a year of criticism over his role in allowing abusive priests to remain in parish work.

In addition to Law, at least eight other top officials in the Boston Archdiocese were subpoenaed to answer questions about their handling of complaints against priests, including the Rev. Thomas V. Daily, now a bishop in New York City; the Rev. Robert J. Banks, now bishop in Green Bay, Wis.; and the Rev. John B. McCormack, now bishop in Manchester, N.H.

Public outrage over the scandal prompted the state to enact a law making reckless endangerment of children a crime. Under the law, someone who fails to take steps to alleviate a substantial risk of injury or sexual abuse of a child can face criminal charges.

But during the time period when much of the abuse took place—from the 1950s through the 1990s—no such laws were on the books, and Reilly has said that prevented him from prosecuting church supervisors.

Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents more than 200 alleged abuse victims in lawsuits against the archdiocese, said he understands why Reilly concluded his hands were tied.

"The attorney general has to act within the law, and as disappointed as I am, I truly believe he has tried to do his best. The worst thing for victims would be for him to prosecute someone and have that prosecution fail," he said.

The archdiocese is facing about 500 civil suits from alleged victims of clergy sex abuse. Church officials have repeatedly said they remain committed to working toward an out-of-court settlement.

A state law passed last year adds members of the clergy to a list of professionals required to inform state officials of suspected child abuse.


At the root of the global child abuse scandal was a conflict between canonical and civil law. Bishops and cardinals aware of sexual abuse occurring within the Catholic church had repeatedly used their own authority within the church's infrastructure to apply justice, rather than referring the matter to the police. Worse still, their own brand of justice was proven time and again to be ineffective and culprits repeatedly reoffended. At the same time there was a lack of clear guidance from the Vatican, meaning that bishops dealt with miscreant priests in an ad hoc and inconsistent manner. All this combined to give the impression of an institutional cover-up.

The number of offenders, as the Catholic Church frequently pointed out, was relatively small. But they still had an enormous effect. The contrast between the crimes and the sacred calling of the Church made the abuse seem even more heinous. The individual and isolated cases of abuse developed into an institutional scandal due to the perception that senior clergy often acted more out of a desire to hush up the abuse than to end it, for instance by using internal Church discipline rather than involving the secular authorities.

A report by the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights in February 2004 attempted to place the sexual abuse into context. By its own admission it did not seek to "exculpate anyone," but it wished to provide "baseline data" so that "meaningful conversation" could take place on the issue. It quoted research by the Washington Post and the New York Times that found (respectively) that only 1.5 percent and 1.8 percent of priests ordained between 1950 and 2001 had been accused of sexual abuse. It suggested that this compared favorably with Protestant clergy, where the figure ranged between two and three percent, and other professions, such as teaching.

The revelations were nevertheless serious and widespread enough to warrant a number of multimillion dollar lawsuits. The Catholic Church in Boston alone paid out some $85 million to settle the claims of 552 litigants in September 2003. Although the claim was partly paid by insurers, the diocese was still responsible for a large portion of the liabilities. In order to pay these claims, the diocese closed churches and sold parcels of land, arousing widespread protests from congregations across Boston's large Catholic community.

By comparison to other dioceses in the United States, however, Boston got off comparatively light. In 2004, the dioceses of Spokane, Portland, and Tucson all declared bankruptcy. In January 2005, the diocese of Orange, south of Los Angeles, paid $100 million to ninety litigants, but was still to settle a further 544 claims by alleged victims of sexual abuse. That brought the total paid out by the U.S. Roman Catholic Church to $900 million. Yet this was without the release of documents showing the church to be negligent in the wider sense. If such papers existed, it was feared that the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S. would be financially ruined.

Part of the problem and the cause of public anger was the purported secrecy of the Catholic church and its slowness to address events. At the height of the allegations in 2002, the Catholic Church's Ad Hoc Committee on Sexual Abuse made a number of recommendations toward a "zero tolerance" policy on sexual abuse. This included the removal from ministry of any priest found to have abused more than one child in the past (although it stopped short of recommending their defrocking), and that bishops turn over any new allegation of child abuse to the police or relevant district attorney. These recommendations, however, needed the approval of the Vatican to be universally implemented, and Rome was unwilling—as a position of principle—to cede such autonomy. To do so, it was argued, would be to relinquish eight centuries of centralized Roman Catholic rule.

Perhaps this was the most shocking element of the case: that the Catholic church was not systematically implementing new procedures that addressed complaints dealing with sexual impropriety. Nor was this the first time they had failed to do so. In 1985, the Reverend Gilbert Gauthe was sentenced to twenty years imprisonment for molesting dozens of children, who were awarded a combined $18 million in damages. His trial gave way to more big cases and large financial settlements, totaling up to $1 billion, but resulted in no fundamental change to complaint procedures.

The ongoing litigation also brought to the surface other scandals lurking within the U.S. Roman Catholic Church. In May 2002, Archbishop Rembert Weakland of Milwaukee was forced to resign after it was revealed he had an "inappropriate relationship" and had paid $450,000 to cover it up. This had nothing to do with the child abuse scandals that were dominating America's front pages of the time, but was a consenting homosexual relationship—inappropriate only in the eyes of the Catholic church—for which Weakland was later blackmailed. His resignation showed how the wider pressures facing the Catholic church in America brought other hidden revelations to the surface and contributed to the perception of a faith in crisis.


Web sites

Boston Globe. "Cardinal Law and the Laity." 〈http://www.boston.com/globe/spotlight/abuse/law_laity〉 (accessed March 2, 2006).

Catholic League. "Sexual Abuse in Social Context: Catholic Clergy and Other Professionals." 〈http://www.catholicleague.org/research/abuse_in_social_context.htm〉 (accessed March 2, 2006).

Time. "Can the Church Be Saved?" 〈http://www.time.com/time/archive/preview/0,10987,1002114,00.html〉 (accessed March 2, 2006).