The New York Times

July 23, 2003

Nearly 800 Church Sex Abuse Victims in Boston, Report Says


N early 800 people have complained of being sexually abused by clergy members and workers in the Roman Catholic Archdiocese since 1940, the Massachusetts attorney general said today in a scathing report that followed a 16-month investigation into a scandal that has shaken the entire Catholic Church.

The report, the first official tally of such accusations against the Boston church, said the archdiocese received complaints from 789 people involving more than 250 priests and other church workers in a 60-year period. But Attorney General Tom Reilly said that when other sources of information are considered, the abuse likely affected more than 1,000 victims.

"I have absolutely no doubt that the number is far greater," Mr. Reilly said at a televised news conference in Boston today.

Earlier estimates by lawyers suing the archdiocese and the news media had put the number at about half of Mr. Reilly's estimate.

The findings "describe one of the greatest tragedies to befall children" in the state, Mr. Reilly said in an accompanying press release. "The sexual abuse of children of such staggering magnitude and over several decades is nothing less than a complete failure of leadership."

Mr. Reilly laid the blame for the scandal on the former administrators of the archdiocese who, even after they had learned of the abuse, "chose to protect their own priests and the reputation of the institution rather than protecting children," Mr. Reilly said in the press release.

He said "the ultimate responsibility" rests with Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned as archbishop last December, but that the cardinal shares responsibility with senior managers who failed to advise their leader of steps that might have ended the abuse.

Cardinal Law stepped down after documents showed that he and other former top officials from the archdiocese allowed known pedophile priests to remain active in the ministry or shuttled them from one parish to another without informing parishioners or law-enforcement officials about the accusations.

The disclosures uncovered a sex scandal that has affected dioceses in many states and prompted people around the country to step forward in the past year to file complaints about past sexual abuse involving priests and church workers.

But despite the attorney general's findings, which went beyond any earlier official estimates of the extent of abuse in the archdiocese, no charges will be filed because the law in Massachusetts that lists "mandated reporters" of child sexual abuse, was not expanded to include priests until 2002.

"I believe they knew they were aware they were under no legal obligation to report," Mr. Reilly said in the news conference, adding "They took advantage of that exemption."

Mr. Reilly said: "These were deliberate, intentional choices, and the choice is pretty clear: It was between protecting children and protecting the church, the reputation of the church and the clergy who abused children. They made the wrong choice."

In his press release, Mr. Reilly also said that his investigation found no evidence of "recent or ongoing sexual abuse of children by priests or other archdiocese workers," though he warned that "it is far too soon to conclude that abuse has, in fact, stopped or could not reoccur in the future."

"No one is more disappointed than I and my staff that we can't bring criminal charges against the top managers," Mr. Reilly said. "We worked hard and we tried and if we could have we would have."

Mr. Reilly knew that criminal charges would be difficult to come by, as the Legislature passed a child endangerment statute only last year that required clergy members to report abuse.

The attorney general's report was released a day after protesters who said they had been molested by priests demonstrated outside Mr. Reilly's office, demanding that criminal charges be filed against archdiocese officials.

Next week a new archbishop, Sean P. O'Malley, is to be installed to succeed Cardinal Law.

Bishop O'Malley has said he wants to settle the lawsuits filed by nearly 500 accusers as soon as possible. He has hired a new lawyer, Thomas H. Hannigan Jr., to take over the negotiations with the plaintiffs.

In 1992, Mr. Hannigan helped Bishop O'Malley settle 101 suits against the Diocese of Fall River, Mass., all of which accused a former priest, James Porter, of abuse. The first and largest group of settlements, with 68 plaintiffs, occurred about four months after Bishop O'Malley took charge of the diocese. In January, Mr. Hannigan helped reach a $5.8 million settlement with 14 men who accused a priest of the Jesuit New England Province of abuse.

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