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Two hundred and fifty priests and other workers of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston sexually abused more than 1,000 children over the past six decades under the cover of an “institutionalized culture of acceptance of sexual abuse,” according to a report released by the Massachusetts attorney general’s office.
Calling it “one of the greatest tragedies to befall children” in the state, Attorney General Tom Reilly finds fault with not only Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law, who stepped down last December, but also Law’s senior managers who failed to advise him to take “any of the steps that might have ended the systemic abuse of children” and instead put the “perceived needs of offending priests” first.
According to the scathing report, top Archdiocese officials knew of the extent of the clergy sexual-abuse problem years before it became public. They chose not to alert law enforcement officials or child-protection authorities even after priests continued their abuse following “unsuccessful intervention” by the Archdiocese.
The report finds insufficient evidence to charge the Archdiocese or senior managers under applicable state law. The child-abuse reporting law was not expanded to include priests until 2002.
The 91-page report is the byproduct of a 16-month investigation into the scandal. An investigative team that included assistant attorneys general, State Police officers, a criminal investigator and civil investigators, reviewed 30,000 pages of documents obtained from the Archdiocese and conducted numerous interviews of victims, current and former priests, senior managers and experts.
Because of the slow pace at which the Archdiocese was producing records, the attorney general’s office launched a grand jury investigation in the summer of 2002. The grand jury heard in excess of 100 hours of testimony from witnesses including Law.
Archdiocese records reveal complaints regarding at least 789 children. When information from other sources is considered, states the report, the number of alleged victims likely exceeds 1,000.
“The magnitude of the Archdiocese’s history of clergy sexual abuse is equally shocking if evaluated in terms of the number of priests and other Archdiocese workers alleged to have sexually abused children since 1940,” states the report.
According to the investigation, charges of sexual abuse were made against 237 priests and 13 other diocese workers. Two hundred and two of the alleged incidents occurred between 1940 and 1984, while 48 took place under Law’s tenure.
The report states the Archdiocese repeatedly failed to thoroughly investigate sexual-abuse claims, and put children at risk by transferring abusive priests to other parishes and dioceses and accepting priests from other dioceses despite having full knowledge they had a history of being accused of sexually abusing children.
“For at least six decades, three successive Archbishops, Bishops, and others in positions of authority within the Archdiocese operated with tragically misguided priorities,” reads the report, “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. 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.”
The investigation did not find evidence of recent or ongoing sexual abuse of children by clergy, but the report says it is too soon to conclude that the Archdiocese has taken the steps necessary to end abuse or prevent future abuse.
The Catholic League, a civil rights organization that defends Catholic individuals and the Church from defamation and discrimination, panned the attorney general’s report, likening it to former independent counsel Ken Starr’s sensational report on the Monica Lewinsky scandal.
“After wasting a colossal amount of public funds in a wild-goose chase effort to prosecute molesting priests, Reilly has concluded there will be no indictments. As if he didn’t know this when he commenced the investigation,” commented League president William Donohue in a released statement.
“There is something in law called a statute of limitations that, believe it or not, applies to priests as well as plumbers. There is also a provision in Massachusetts law that demands prosecutors prove that bishops who transferred molesting priests did so with the intent of causing harm to children. Even the most outraged victims never made such a charge,” he continued.