Sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic archdiocese of Boston
The sexual abuse scandal in Boston archdiocese was part of a series of Catholic Church sexual abuse cases in the United States and Ireland. In early 2002, Boston Globe coverage of a series of criminal prosecutions of five Roman Catholic priests thrust the issue of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests into the national spotlight. The coverage of these cases encouraged other victims to come forward with their allegations of abuse, resulting in more lawsuits and criminal cases.
As it became clear that there was truth to many of the allegations and that there was a pattern of sexual abuse and cover-up in a number of large dioceses across the U.S., what had originally appeared to be a few isolated cases of abuse exploded into a nationwide scandal. The resulting scandal created a crisis for the Catholic Church in the United States, encouraging victims in other nations to come forward with their allegations of abuse, thus creating a global crisis for the Church.
Ultimately, it became clear that priests and lay members of religious orders in the Catholic Church had sexually abused minors on a scale such that the accusations reached into the thousands over several decades. Although the majority of cases were reported to have occurred in the United States, victims have come forward in other nations such as Ireland, Canada and Australia. A major aggravating factor was the actions of Catholic bishops to keep these crimes secret and to reassign the accused to other parishes in positions where they had continued unsupervised contact with youth, thus allowing the abusers to continue their crime.
The investigation of the scandal by The Boston Globe was under the banner "Spotlight Investigation: Abuse in the Catholic Church". Its exposé was the subject of the Academy Award–winning film Spotlight (2015), which won two Academy awards including Best Picture.
- 1 History
- 2 Sexual abuse cases in the Boston archdiocese
- 3 See also
- 4 References
- 5 External links
Boston Globe coverage
In 2002, criminal charges were brought against five Roman Catholic priests in the Boston area of the United States (John Geoghan, John Hanlon, Paul Shanley, Robert V. Gale and Jesuit priest James Talbot) which ultimately resulted in the conviction and sentencing of each to prison. The ongoing coverage of these cases by The Boston Globe thrust the issue of "sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests" into the national limelight. The coverage of these cases encouraged other victims to come forward with their allegations of abuse resulting in more lawsuits and criminal cases.
In 2003, the series of articles in the Boston Globe received a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. The newspaper was honored, according to the Pulitzer website, "for its courageous, comprehensive coverage ... an effort that pierced secrecy, stirred local, national and international reaction and produced changes in the Roman Catholic Church."
Grassroots public advocacy groups like Voice of the Faithful focused on Cardinal Bernard Francis Law after documents revealed his extensive role in covering up incidents of sexual misconduct of his priests. For example, Cardinal Law moved Paul Shanley and John Geoghan from parish to parish within the diocese despite repeated allegations of molestation of children under the priests' care. Later, it was discovered that Father Shanley even advocated the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Under questioning, the cardinal stated that, when a priest committed a sex crime, the cardinal said his practice was to seek the analysis of psychiatrists, clinicians and therapists in residential treatment centers before deciding whether a priest accused of sexually abusing a child should be returned to the pulpit.
In 1984, John Brendan McCormack became Secretary for Ministerial Personnel in the Archdiocese of Boston. In this position, McCormack was Cardinal Law's point person on hearing complaints against priests accused of sexual misconduct and removing some of them from active duty. He was later accused of taking too little action in handling Geoghan, a Boston priest who allegedly molested over 130 children during his ministry.
In 1990, after receiving complaints from an alleged victim, he removed one priest from duty and sent him to treatment, only for the same priest to later serve as a hospital chaplain. He also wrote conciliatory letters to another priest accused of pedophilia and who once defended the North American Man/Boy Love Association, then failed to notify the diocese to which that priest was later transferred of the accusations made against him.
Cardinal Law's response
Cardinal Law's term as Archbishop of Boston began in popularity but quickly declined into turbulence towards the end of his tenure. Allegations and reports of sexual misconduct by priests of the Archdiocese of Boston became widespread causing Roman Catholics in other dioceses of the United States to investigate similar situations there. Cardinal Law's actions and inactions prompted public scrutiny of all members of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the steps they had taken in response to past and current allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of priests. The events in the Archdiocese of Boston exploded into a national Roman Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.
Law's public statements and depositions during the abuse crisis claimed that the Cardinal and Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston did not initially have the expertise to understand pedophilia and ephebophilia and relied upon doctors' recommendations. In January 2002, Law stated, "I promulgated a policy to deal with sexual abuse of minors by clergy. This went into effect on Jan. 15, 1993," and also noted that the "policy has been effective." His depositions echoed those sentiments.
Impact on the diocese
Settlements in the Boston, Massachusetts suits were estimated to be up to $100 million. In some cases insurance companies have balked at meeting the cost of large settlements, claiming the actions were deliberate and not covered by insurance. This was additional financial damage to the Archdiocese, which already faced the need to consolidate and close parishes due to changing attendance and giving patterns. In June 2004, much of the land around the Archdiocese of Boston headquarters was sold to Boston College, in part to raise money for legal costs associated with scandal in Boston.
Resignation of Cardinal Law
In a statement and apology, Law said, "To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and mistakes I both apologize and from them beg forgiveness." He remained cardinal, which is a separate appointment, and participated in the 2005 papal conclave.
Handling by Bishop Lennon
Bishop Richard Lennon's appointment as apostolic administrator of the Boston archdiocese, following the resignation of Cardinal Law, brought criticism from some sex-abuse victims' groups. This criticism increased after Bishop Lennon's appearance in the Frontline documentary Hand of God. The movie documents the history of a Salem, Massachusetts sex scandal and its effects on the film maker's own family. Lennon closes the Salem parish despite the fact it is not losing money for the Church. Then, when the movie's filmmaker attempts to film the administrative building where his brother reported his own sexual abuse, Lennon exits the building, shoves the camera, declares he will not "feel bad about this" after being told why the filmmaker wants to film the building's exterior, attempts to avoid any discussion of the sex scandal by refusing to talk about anything other than the Church's private property rights, and responds to the filmmaker's claim that he doesn't care by calling the filmmaker a "sad little man."
In September 2003, the Archdiocese settled most of the abuse-related claims for $85 million.
On August 25, 2011, Cardinal O'Malley released a list of 159 names of priests who had been accused of sexually abusing a minor. The publication mentioned that 250 priests in the archdiocese had been accused but 69 names were omitted because they were either deceased, were not active ministers, had not been publicly accused, or were dismissed or left prior to canonical proceedings. An additional 22 names were omitted because the accusations could not be substantiated; nine of these priests were still in active ministry.
Sexual abuse cases in the Boston archdiocese
In 1987, after at least 23 years of child molesting by Father Joseph Birmingham during which time he was shuffled to various parishes, the mother of an altar boy at St. Anns wrote to Law asking if Birmingham had a history of molesting children. Cardinal Law wrote back "I contacted Father Birmingham. ... He assured me there is absolutely no factual basis to your concern regarding your son and him. From my knowledge of Father Birmingham and my relationship with him, I feel he would tell me the truth and I believe he is speaking the truth in this matter."
As a result of the unlawful sex, the Archdiocese of Boston lost millions of dollars in fines and settlements. It also funded the legal defense of accused priests. The archdiocese slipped into large financial deficits. The Archdiocese closed sixty-five parishes before Cardinal Law stepped down from service.
In response to the scandal, over fifty priests signed a letter declaring no confidence in Cardinal Law and asking him to resign—something that had never before happened in the history of the Roman Catholic Church in America.
Paul Desilets, a retired Quebec priest, has been indicted on 27 counts of indecent assault and battery dating back to his time as a parish priest in Bellingham, Mass., between 1978 and 1984. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is seeking extradition.
Robert V. Gale
Robert V. Gale was sentenced to 4.5–5 years in prison in 2004 after pleading guilty to repeatedly raping a boy in Waltham during the 1980s. Gale (who had been treated in 1987 following years of abusing children) began a restricted ministry around 1992, living at St. Monica's in South Boston while studying at the University of Massachusetts.
Cardinal Law, who had the ultimate authority, signed off on letting Gale remain at St. Monica's. An adolescent reported that Gale abused him in his room/office in the rectory just a few months after Law's decision was made.
John Geoghan (1935–2003) was accused of sexual abuse involving more than 130 children. Charges were brought in Cambridge, Massachusetts, concerning accusations of a molestation that took place in 1991. Geoghan was laicized in 1998. He was found guilty in January 2002 of indecent assault and battery for grabbing the buttocks of a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool at the Waltham Boys and Girls Club in 1991, and was sentenced to nine to ten years in prison.
The trial included testimony from the victim; from a psychiatrist, Dr. Edward Messner, who treated Geoghan for his sexual fantasies about children from 1994 to 1996; and from Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes, who testified that he banned Geoghan from the swimming club after a complaint that he had been proselytizing and had had prurient conversations there.
After initially agreeing to, and pulling out of, a $30 million settlement with 86 of Geoghan's victims, the Boston archdiocese settled with them for $10 million, and is still negotiating with lawyers for other victims. The most recent settlement proposed is $65 million for 542 victims. The settlements are being made because of evidence that the archdiocese had transferred Geoghan from parish to parish despite warnings of his behavior. Evidence also arose, as a result of allegations against Geoghan, that the archdiocese displayed a pattern of shipping other priests to new parishes when allegations of sexual abuse were made.
Two other cases were charged against Geoghan in Boston's Suffolk County. One case was dropped without prejudice when the victim decided not to testify. In the second case, two rape charges were dismissed by a judge after hotly contested arguments because the statute of limitations had run out. The Commonwealth's appeal of that ruling was active at the time of Geoghan's death, and remaining charges of indecent assault in that case were still pending at that time.
On August 23, 2003, while in protective custody at the Souza-Baranowski Correctional Center in Shirley, Massachusetts, Geoghan was strangled and stomped to death in his cell by Joseph Druce, a self-described white supremacist and inmate serving a sentence of life without possibility of parole for killing a man who allegedly made a sexual pass after picking Druce up hitchhiking. An autopsy revealed the cause of death to be "ligature strangulation and blunt chest trauma." There have been questions raised about the wisdom and propriety of placing these two men in the same unit, since prison officials had been warned by another inmate that Druce had something planned.
According to Leon Podles in his book Sacrilege: Sexual Abuse in the Catholic Church, "In late 1993, Shanley was sent to the Institute of Living in Hartford, Connecticut, for evaluation. The Boston archdiocese has refused to release this evaluation, but other released files show that Shanley admitted to nine sexual encounters, of which four involved boys, and that he was diagnosed as "narcissistic" and "histrionic." Shanley admitted that he was "attracted to adolescents" and on the basis of this confession, the Boston archdiocese secretly settled several lawsuits against Shanley. The archdiocese of Boston in 1993 had to admit to the diocese of San Bernardino part of the truth about Shanley, and the bishop of San Bernardino immediately dismissed him."
In February 2005, Shanley was found guilty of indecent assaults and the rape of a male minor and received a sentence of 12 to 15 years in prison. Shanley's case remains controversial to some because the allegations of abuse came only after the victim (now an adult) alleged that he recovered memories of the abuse from approximately 20 years earlier. The manner in which the accusations against Shanley arose and enormous attention in the media also have given rise to questions about the validity of the convictions.
Robert A. Ward affair
In February 2002, Rev. Robert A. Ward was accused of molesting an altar boy in Boston in 1970. Records show that the archdiocese knew at least as early as 1995 that the pastor used cocaine and had been treated for drug abuse. The records also show that in 1999 Ward admitted to downloading of child pornography from the internet, a discovery made when a technician repaired Ward's computer and noticed the sexually explicit material. Ward was suspended by the Archdiocese of Boston in February 2002 and laicized by the Vatican in 2005.
- Barbara Blaine, founder of SNAP (Survivors Network for those Abused by Priests)
- Catholic Church sexual abuse cases
- Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People
- Crimen sollicitationis
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- Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors
- Pontifical secret
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-  retrieved March 21, 2009
-  retrieved March 21, 2009
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- Audits, Child And Youth Protection; US Conference of Catholic Bishops
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- Child And Youth Protection; US Conference of Catholic Bishops
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- Victim Assistance, Child And Youth Protection; US Conference of Catholic Bishops