Why Isn’t Boston’s Cardinal Law in Jail? Part 1
By Chris Suellentrop Posted Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2002, at 6:13 PM
According to local polls, nearly half of Boston Catholics want Cardinal Bernard Law to resign in the wake of a child sex-abuse scandal involving pedophile priests. Cardinal Law admits assigning a priest to a new parish despite knowing that the priest had molested children. (Click here to read the Boston Globe‘s investigative reports on the scandal.) One family has targeted Law in a civil suit that accuses him of negligence and of intentional and reckless infliction of emotional distress. But why isn’t Cardinal Law facing criminal charges?
Because what he did isn’t illegal in Massachusetts. Only 18 states require all persons to report knowledge or suspicion of child abuse. Massachusetts isn’t one of them. The other 32 states (including Massachusetts) and the District of Columbia require only persons designated as mandatory reporters to report child abuse.
Mandatory reporters are generally designated by profession: health-care workers, education and child-care workers, social workers, law enforcement officers, etc. Ten states specifically list “clergy” among their mandatory reporters. But Massachusetts isn’t one of those states, either. (Seven of the 10 states requiring clergy to report child abuse also recognize the clergy-penitent privilege, which exempts clergy who become aware of abuse through their capacity as a spiritual adviser, such as through confessions in the Catholic tradition.)
There is a movement afoot in the Massachusetts legislature, however, to add clergy to the state’s list of mandatory reporters. The Massachusetts Senate has already passed a bill that would add both clergy and lay leaders of any church to the list. The law would recognize the clergy-penitent privilege, and it would be retroactive, requiring knowledge of past abuse to be reported within 30 days after the bill becomes law. The bill is expected to pass the Massachusetts House soon, and the governor is expected to sign it.
But even if Massachusetts adds clergy to its list of mandatory reporters, Cardinal Law won’t be going to jail. Under Massachusetts’ mandatory-reporter statute, each instance of failing to report child abuse carries a maximum penalty of a civil fine of $1,000. (Failure to report is a misdemeanor in 34 states. In some of those states, it can lead to imprisonment of up to six months.)
But Why Isn’t Bernard Law in Jail? (Part 2)
By Dahlia Lithwick Updated Thursday, Dec. 19, 2002, at 6:33 PM
Almost a year ago, Slate‘s “Explainer” answered the question: Why isn’t Boston’s Cardinal Law in jail? The question was somewhat rhetorical. Since Massachusetts didn’t have a mandatory reporting law, the answer was that the cardinal was under no legal obligation to come forward with information about sexual abuse of children by priests he’d supervised.
Almost a year later, more lawsuits have been filed, depositions have been taken, church documents have been turned over, and we have a clearer picture of what precisely the cardinal has done, or not done, over the past decade and a half. What’s emerged is horrifying. Law was not only aware of egregious sexual misconduct among his subordinates but was apparently engaged in elaborate efforts to cover up incident after incident of child rape. Worse yet, he breezily reassigned clergy known for sexually abusing children to work with more children—conduct not all that distinguishable from leaving a loaded gun in a playground.
Last week, under increasing pressure, Law resigned. Many Americans breathed a sigh of relief. But many also wondered, silently: “Is that all? Does Law get to pack up his hat and retire to Orlando and a second career in canasta?” And the question lingers, more urgently than it did a year ago: Why haven’t criminal charges been filed against him? What Law has done goes far beyond “not reporting” suspected child abusers. This was no crime of omission. It is now clear that Law affirmatively engaged in a pattern of shielding child rapists and recklessly allowing them unfettered access to yet more victims. A high-school principal or the CEO of any company in America would have been indicted months ago.
The evidence speaks for itself: Last spring, Law admitted in a deposition that he was aware that John Geoghan had reportedly raped at least seven young boys in 1984 yet nevertheless approved the transfer of Geoghan to another parish, working with other boys. Other documents revealed that Law similarly knew of and ignored decades of reported child abuse by Paul Shanley, placing Shanley in ministries with access to other children. Shanley is currently facing trial on 10 charges of child rape and six counts of indecent assault and battery. Law is jetting back and forth to Rome.
Throughout his tenure, Law seemed to reserve his warmest sympathy for the abusers, not the victims. He lied to a West Coast bishop about Shanley’s history. He signed a document attesting that another known child-molesting priest, Redmond Raux, had “nothing in his background” to make him “unsuitable to work with children.” Last week, more court documents revealed that the archdiocese gave new jobs to two priests, one of whom was known to have molested boys while the other had supplied cocaine to a teenage lover. Law’s responses to these and earlier disclosures? The molesters had been cleared by physicians; the church kept bad records; his subordinates vetted the transfers; he forgot; he never knew; he’s sorry.
“Sorry” may not be good enough. Not for the victims—many of whose lives would not have been devastated but for Law’s recklessness—and not for the rest of us. According to a summer poll conducted by ABC News and Beliefnet.com, eight out of 10 Americans believe bishops who failed to act on abuse allegations should be prosecuted criminally.
This message may finally be getting through. It’s been suggested that Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly was being soft on Law to protect his elected position among Catholic voters. Similarly, the Los Angeles Times reported that L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley went far too easy on Los Angeles’ Cardinal Roger Mahoney because, as a Catholic himself, Cooley was too conflicted to zealously pursue the investigation. But the tide seems to be turning, and finally prosecutors have begun to empanel grand juries to investigate criminal wrongdoing in the upper echelons of the church. While only individual priests and no church leaders have so far been charged with crimes, over a dozen states have started to turn their criminal law machinery on the supervisors.
And last week, Law and seven bishops who worked for him were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury. Attorney General Thomas Reilly is finally making noises suggesting that the cover-up on the part of the church leaders was indeed criminal. For months, he had been insisting that there were simply no criminal laws on the books under which Law could be charged.
Reilly should consider taking a page from John Ashcroft’s book. The U.S. attorney general, never a man to be deterred by a shortage of enforceable laws, alternately invents new ones or rejiggers existing ones to suit his ends. It’s long past time that Reilly, Cooley, and their counterparts around the country started filing indictments. And their legal theory should be simple: A church official who knowingly puts a habitual child molester in a position to abuse more vulnerable children is aiding and abetting a crime.
The conventional wisdom is that getting criminal convictions won’t be simple. Reilly is correct that without child endangerment statutes, Massachusetts will have a tough time finding a hook for criminal prosecutions. (Child endangerment statutes were finally enacted in September in Massachusetts, but they cannot be applied retroactively). One tack being considered by Reilly’s office is to pursue church leadership under a state statute that criminally prosecutes companies for failures to stop wrongdoing by their employees—corporate vicarious criminal liability. Under this rule, the archdiocese could be sued as a corporation, just like any other, and Law would be liable merely because he was in a position of authority to prevent the crimes but didn’t. The penalty is fines, not jail time, but it’s a start.
Another route involves prosecuting church leaders for obstruction of justice. Some experts say that the Boston Archdiocese hasn’t actually obstructed any criminal investigation; it did turn over its documents. But in Phoenix, Ariz., prosecutors have suggested that Bishop Thomas O’Brien may soon face criminal obstruction charges for allegedly counseling victims’ families not to approach police.
One more tack being considered by the Massachusetts AG’s office is to file charges against Law as an accessory after the fact to the abuse. But to be an accessory, experts insist that you must intend for the abuse to occur; in other words, it’s not enough that Law knew his subordinates would molest again. It seems that not caring one way or another is insufficient.
In some jurisdictions RICO suits have been filed, using racketeering laws to prosecute the seemingly untouchable higher-ups in the church. Although early this month, a Cleveland grand jury cleared two bishops of racketeering charges, finding that their mishandling of sex abuse claims didn’t amount to criminal racketeering. This was a pretty creative use of the RICO laws, and it might work in other cases where the supervisors were more complicit in the coverups.
Last week, New Hampshire got a taste of how criminal indictments—or the threat of criminal indictments—may play out in the coming months. In settling a civil case, the Diocese of Manchester admitted that, had criminal charges been filed, the diocese itself would likely have been found guilty. Whether this kind of admission will embolden other prosecutors to file criminal charges or just use the threat as leverage in civil suits remains to be seen. But what’s becoming clear across the country is that the taboo is broken; that the church can still be a holy institution, but its criminals are not sacred. Civil suits and cash reparations are just not enough. Church elders who unloosed monsters on suffering children for decades cannot be treated as though they were above the law. Shakespeare wrote: “The law hath not been dead, though it hath slept.” It’s past time for the law to wake up and punish the guilty.
Bishop John McCormack files: Church covered up 4 decades of abuse
By Tom Mashberg and Jack Sullivan Boston (MA) Herald June 5, 2002
Documents on 10 suspended clerics released yesterday put Bernard Cardinal Law, three subordinates and even the late Richard Cardinal Cushing at the center of a broad effort to hide the truth about clergy abuse from parishioners, victims and the public.
The damaging new documents on the suspended clerics also reflect unfavorably on the oversight of priests under the long-lionized Cushing as well as Law’s predecessor, the late Humberto Cardinal Medeiros.
“What we now have before us is a four-decade-long pattern of protecting, harboring and covering up for known child molesters,” said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who released the files and is to depose Law today. “To claim any more that these are isolated cases is absurd.”
The Rev. Christopher R. Coyne, spokesman for Law, conceded yesterday that the latest batch of documents was damaging to his besieged archdiocese. “Once again, it was part of the protective culture of the church of the time,” Coyne said, “and forgetting . . . that the first thing has to be the protection of children.
“It’s going to take a long time to Recover the credibility we’ve lost,” he added.
Included in the files is a three-page handwritten 1993 Law memo in which he details why he let Rev. Eugene M. O’Sullivan be shifted in 1985 to a diocese in New Jersey – even though O’Sullivan had been convicted of raping an Arlington altar boy just a year earlier.
“Boston was not acceptable because of possible scandal,” Law wrote in the 1993 memo, which he apparently prepared after the Associated Press and other news media contacted the chancery about O’Sullivan’s criminal past. “While assignment of a priest under these circumstances is arguable, our present policy does not permit it.”
Nonetheless, after O’Sullivan was bounced from Metuchen, N.J., because of his Bay State convictions, he was allowed by Law to wear his clerical collar for 17 more years – and even served formally at Carney Hospital in Dorchester. The lengths to which Law himself went to assure new priestly duties for O’Sullivan and two other longtime problem pastors – the Revs. Ernest E. Tourigney and Daniel M Graham – are just some of the troubling personnel moves outlined in the files, obtained by MacLeish as part a pretrial investigation of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley.
Other revelations included in the long-hidden files are these:
– Embattled Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., denied over and over to parishioners that Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham was a threat to molest minors, even though Birmingham’s personnel file showed evidence of abuse starting under Cushing in 1964. In April 1987, in his capacity as Law’s secretary for ministerial personnel, McCormack reviewed an emotional inquiry about Birmingham from a male parishioner at St. Ann’s Church in Gloucester. The parishioner, whose son, then 13, was an altar boy under Birmingham, said he learned that Birmingham had been removed from his parish for molesting children, and that the priest had soon after fallen into “poor health.”
Because Birmingham had also preached about AIDS, and was rumored to have engaged in risky sexual practices, the parishioner wrote: “I am concerned about the AIDS situation, and about a priest possibly molesting my son.” He asked Law for an explanation. In answer, McCormack wrote that Law had received the letter and asked McCormack to investigate. McCormack then wrote: “I have contacted Father Birmingham and . . . he assured me there is absolutely no factual basis for your concern regarding your son and him. . . . I feel he would tell me the truth . . . in this matter.”
Birmingham died wasting away from cancer in 1989. Some 40 men have come forward in recent months to file lawsuits against him for abuse, and church files quote him admitting several times under questioning to “sexual improprieties.” Gary Bergeron of Lowell, a Birmingham accuser, said yesterday: “Page after page shows they all knew he was a molester a full decade before he abused me and my brother, but did nothing. It’s incredible to see how these `men of God’ let this go on for so long.”
– The files mark the first clear indications Cushing engaged in cover-ups. The Herald reported last month that Medeiros was deeply implicated in efforts to hide the depredations of defrocked and jailed pedophile James R. Porter. In a letter dated Oct. 1, 1964, a Marshfield couple wrote to Cushing detailing the sexual abuse of their 12-year-old son by O’Sullivan at St. Ann’s Church in Marshfield. In the letter, the couple told Cushing that O’Sullivan had fondled their son, an altar boy, several times that summer. They also informed Cushing of at least four other altar boys who spoke of being sexually abused by O’Sullivan. The couple said they had reported the incidents to the church pastor, who said he would relay their concerns to the archdiocese. The couple later found out the pastor had not followed through. That is when they wrote to Cushing.
“We are taking the liberty of reporting directly to you . . . trusting that you in your wisdom will know best how best to handle the matter,” the couple wrote Cushing.
Shortly after, O’Sullivan was transferred to Our Lady’s Parish in Waltham. That same year, similar accusations were levied, and he was again transferred, next to Point of Pines Church in Revere. An unsigned memo from 1964 acknowledges allegations against O’Sullivan and noted a three-week vacation was arranged beginning June 16, 1964, until July 6, 1964.
“Informed (O’Sullivan) that we would transfer him, effective approx. July 9,” the note states.
And despite Law’s insistence in his 1993 memo there were “no previous reports” of accusations on O’Sullivan, an internal memo from “T.J.D.” to Bishop Alfred Hughes confirmed the O’Sullivan problem. “As far as I can see there is no evidence of treatment following the events of 1964, just transferred etc. . . .,” the memo states.
– Regarding Father Graham, removed in February from St. Joseph’s in Quincy, the papers show he was assigned a “mediator” in 1988 by Bishop Robert J. Banks, now of Green Bay, Wis., a Law aide who was deposed yesterday for his role in the Boston scandal.
The mediator was Shanley, now awaiting trial on three counts of child rape, who acted as middle-man between Graham and the accuser. Shanley referred Graham to Sex and Love Addicts Anonymous (SLAA), a program for sexual addictions loosely based on the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous.
“With Fr. Paul Shanley’s help I have discovered a helpful support group, S.L.A.A.,” Graham wrote to his victim. “Meetings are helpful to keep ones sexuality in check.”
Graham was cleared by church officials to resume parish ministry, but in 1992 was charged once again with abusing minors. In a 1996 letter to Graham, Law offered him a dispensation from Law’s 1993 rules governing molester priests so that he could resume parish work.
– The documents also further the evidence that Medeiros allowed pedophile priests to remain in the ministry and transferred rather than disciplined them.
In 1973, Medeiros approved the request of Rev. Ernest E. Tourigney to take a post as student chaplain at Catholic University in Washington. Medeiros knew Tourigney had been transferred to St. Mary’s in Holliston after accusations of molestation at Immaculate Conception Church in Weymouth.
In his letter to Medeiros requesting the post, Tourigney said his stay at St. Mary’s helped “alleviate a long-term difficult situation with the parish, which I have tried to do to the best of my ability.”
“During my years as a priest, I have worked with the youth both on a parish and deanery level,” he wrote. “It is the type of work I enjoy doing the most, find most rewarding and feel most qualified in doing.” The records indicate there were at least eight victims who accused Tourigney of sexually assaulting them. Still, McCormack and Law gave him new slots.
– One of the more sordid tales to emerge from the papers involves accused predatory priest Richard O. Matte. A man alleges he was abused by Matte after he went to the cleric about being sexually abused by another priest at various places, including drug dealers’ houses in the early-1980s.
According to a letter to church lawyers from Robert A. Sherman, the victim’s attorney and MacLeish’s partner, the then-14-year-old boy was the victim of “violent sexual abuse” by the Rev. Richard Buntel from 1979 to 1985. Both Buntel and Matte were assigned to St. Joseph’s Church in Malden.
The victim claimed Buntel befriended him and introduced him to alcohol and marijuana, later feeding him cocaine and exposing him to “violent pornography.”
“On one occasion, two drug dealers associated with Fr. Buntel urged Fr. Buntel to make a pornographic film of him sexually assaulting (the victim),” Sherman wrote. “(The victim) does not know if this film was ever made.”
The church retains its barrier of silence
A lack of transparency at the top of the Roman Catholic Church has come between pulpit and pew.
In January 2002, the Boston Globe published the first in a series of articles that exposed the sordid history of sexual abuse of youth in the Boston Roman Catholic archdiocese. Those stories revealed how church officials had kept knowledge of abuse from parishioners and kept abusing priests in parishes where they continued to blight the lives and faith of the innocent.
Later in 2002, as more cases of sexual abuse in more dioceses tumbled out of the dark and the silence to which they had been consigned, the U.S. Conference of Bishops hurriedly promised transparency. The Catholic faithful, the bishops said, should know the extent of priestly abuse and their church’s response.
In 2007, after paying at least $660 million in abuse settlements, the Archdiocese of Los Angeles joined a torturous legal defense of a privilege to conceal its part in that history. The Los Angeles Times and the Associated Press, along with advocates for the victims, challenged the claim of archdiocesan officials.
Last week, in response to a court order, the archdiocese released internal records documenting the actions church officials took — or failed to take — when priests were accused of abuse. More documents will be released in coming weeks, but from those we’ve seen already, we know that in the 1980s, then-Archbishop Roger Mahony and his Vicar of Clergy, then-Msgr. Thomas Curry, failed repeatedly when moral judgment required them to choose the good of the Catholic community over loyalty to their fraternity of parish priests.
It’s impossible to use a facile word like “closure” at this point. The victims, some in their 50s and 60s, live on. The men who abused them have their crimes to live with. Members of the hierarchy have their attempts at contrition and their own unanswered failures. Nothing with real meaning is ended.
The faithful still gather on Sunday morning in my suburban church for Mass and to hear a sermon preached, which typically runs to themes of faithfulness, virtue and awareness of human failings. Hardly any of the hundreds of sermons I’ve heard since 2002 reflected on the scandal of priestly abuse, and the very few that did were generalized promises of change. Not one Sunday sermon considered how or why some men in the priesthood in Los Angeles became sexual predators. No sermon spoke of the disillusionment — obvious to everyone — that the men and women in the pews feel.
The promised changes have begun. The background of everyone who works with children in the parish is vetted. Parish workers are trained to observe the signs of abuse. Even the children are better informed. Beyond the parish boundaries, new protocols are in place for judging the psychological fitness of men seeking the priesthood. There’s a new awareness of what an abusing personality is like and how unlikely an abuser is to respond to treatment. New regulations should prevent an abusing priest from being shuttled from one unsuspecting parish to another.
These changes in parish life were made necessary by a hierarchy that kept silent for far too long. But some of the changes have coarsened parish life. Because of the archdiocese’s fear of transparency, every priest has been a suspect. Children have been steered away from contact with their pastors. Insurance carriers and church lawyers have counseled even greater distancing. The barriers rising between priests and children put at risk youth retreats, sports programs run by religious orders and boys’ high schools — all of which were part of my Catholic childhood.
The gap between pulpit and pew is widening, but it’s from those pews that future priests come. The formation of a boy into a man with the strength of character to accept a vocation used to begin with a relationship between a priest and a boy. It used to begin with a boy’s hero worship. That may not have been the best way to begin a life of self-denial and celibacy, but being in the company of a priest who seemed both saintly and human was the start for many men on the long path toward the priesthood. Of course, hero worship made the crimes of a predatory priest so much easier to commit.
From the perspective of the pulpit, the failure of the Los Angeles Archdiocese to understand and fulfill its responsibilities is likely to be seen as a tragic mistake, to be sincerely regretted and cured by regulatory fiat and vigilance.
From the perspective of those in the pews, the causes of priestly abuse and the reaction of archdiocesan officials make a bewildering labyrinth of unexplored reasons, including any that might lie in our own failures of understanding. Having had the sexuality of priests forced on us in its most terrible and scandalous form — in the form of a monster — we in the pews have had no invitation to offer whatever insight from our own lives we might give the men who are called to make their sexuality a daily sacrifice. Silence is the disfiguring common feature that perpetuated abuse and leaves the parish community unable now to minister to those who would minister to us.
D.J. Waldie is a contributing writer to Opinion.