February 17, 2002
Boston Priests' Sex Scandal Causes Ripples Across U.S.
By LAURIE GOODSTEIN
The Associated Press
Disclosures from the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, where
priests accused of sexual molestation were quietly allowed to continue
serving in parishes with the knowledge of Cardinal Bernard Law and
other top church officials, are beginning to ripple across the country.
People have come forward to tell of abuses by priests in other
dioceses, and some dioceses have begun releasing the names of sexual
abusers that they long kept secret.
On Friday, the Diocese of Manchester, N.H., announced that it had given
prosecutors the names of 14 priests accused of sexually abusing
children from 1963 to 1987.
Last weekend, the Dioceses of Worcester, Mass., and Portland, Me., said
that they would tell churchgoers which priests had histories of
pedophilia. The members of two Maine parishes were told last Sunday
that two priests serving their churches had molested teenage boys more
than 20 years ago and had been in residential treatment centers.
It has been nearly 20 years since the first major scandal involving a
pedophile priest became public, in Louisiana. Although the public has
long known that individual priests have abused children, the Boston
cases have opened a new chapter, because of their scope - more than 80
priests have been implicated - and because they have exposed as never
before the efforts that many dioceses have made to keep accusations
against its priests from becoming public.
"This is the first time that really the whole system is being exposed
and in a very significant and large archdiocese, and with the knowledge
not only of a cardinal but of his bishops," said A. W. Richard Sipe, a
psychologist and former priest who has been an expert witness for
plaintiffs in more than 50 cases. "This is the beginning of the reform."
Although church officials say they have policies in place to prevent
abuse, they also concede that some bishops are now going to be
compelled to re-evaluate such policies and to consider removing priests
who could pose risks to children.
"Certainly I believe that many other dioceses that may not have enacted
a review are probably going to do so in light of the events that we are
facing right now," said Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, the president of the
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the head of the
diocese of Belleville, Ill. "The driving force would be to make sure
that children are not at risk."
Some bishops and church leaders said in interviews they were surprised
to learn some dioceses were still reassigning known pedophiles, even
though experts have told bishops since the 1980's that most pedophiles
cannot be controlled or cured.
"To be perfectly honest," Bishop Gregory said, "I am baffled by that. I
do not believe it is possible to return people that we are certain have
harmed children to the ministry."
In most cases, the identities of priests accused of abuse are never
made public, according to interviews with lawyers. Church lawyers have
settled out of court as many as 1,000 abuse cases, plaintiffs' lawyers
estimate, and many of those have confidentiality agreements.
As in Boston, bishops reassigned some of those priests to new
positions, sometimes as chaplains in hospitals or retirement homes, but
other times in or near schools or parishes.
The Boston cases are being felt around the country in large measure
because The Boston Globe obtained internal church documents and
depositions that made it clear that church leaders ignored accusations
Such a public airing of private church documents is rare. "We see these
documents in litigation, but they are typically subject to a protective
order," said Stephen C. Rubino, a lawyer in Margate, N.J., who has
worked on more than 300 cases of sexual abuse brought against the
Catholic church in about 50 dioceses. "They are sealed, and there are
months - and sometimes years - long discovery fights when the church
says they're not going to turn over anything unless they're guaranteed
Mr. Rubino said that in the month since the Boston files were published
he had received more than 100 calls from people reporting abuse.
Advocacy groups for victims of sexual abuse by the clergy say they have
also seen a substantial increase in calls to help lines and offices.
The Catholic Church in the United States has no uniform approach to
abuse. Over the last 10 years, a subcommittee of the National
Conference of Catholic Bishops has issued a series of reports,
"Restoring Trust," on how dioceses should respond to allegations of
abuse like reaching out to victims and removing offenders from
But the guidelines have always been discretionary. The bishops who run
the 194 dioceses have sole authority over their diocesan priests and
handling accusations of sexual misconduct. Some dioceses have embraced
the guidelines. In Dallas, the diocese cleaned house after a scandal
resulted in a $120 million settlement against it in 1997. The diocese
removed 9 priests out of 78, Bishop Joseph A. Galante and Chancellor
Mary C. Edlund said in an interview. The diocese, they said, has
established a board on sexual misconduct that follows up on all
accusations of abuse and reports them to the police and child welfare
Other areas have been slow to change. In Orange County, Calif., the
Rev. John Lenihan remained a pastor despite having been disciplined by
the diocese for having sex with a teenage girl. Father Lenihan admitted
the abuse to church authorities years later, after the woman had gone
to the police, who recorded a call to her in which he confessed.
The woman, Mary Grant, said the diocese settled a suit that she brought
in 1991, but she was chagrined to hear that Father Lenihan had been
reassigned to some large parishes. To expose his past, she picketed
outside those parishes with a support group.
Father Lenihan was removed from St. Edward Church in Dana Point by
Bishop Tod D. Brown in September after a columnist for The Los Angeles
Times wrote about a "Father X" who was struggling to remain celibate
after having been disciplined for sexual contact with a teenager and
Priests and the church are rarely prosecuted because many states have
statutes of limitations. In some states, a person making abuse
accusations has to sue before turning 20. In others, people can file
within two years of finding the abuse has damaged their lives.
"I wish I could tell you that these diocesan policies make a
difference, but they're really worthless," said David Clohessy,
national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests.
"I think the reason they're worthless is if you look at the origin of
them, most were drawn up at the insistence of the insurance company and
at the urging of P.R. people when a diocese is in crisis."