We will never forget what you did. . .
Shame on you
Law and the lawBOSTON (MA)
BY KRISTEN LOMBARDI
IT’S BEEN CALLED the worst case of child molestation in modern times. Ever since the clergy-sex-abuse scandal dominated headlines last year — exposing a staggering number of child molestations by priests and an appalling pattern of cover-ups by Church leaders — critics of the Archdiocese of Boston have demanded jail time for the predatory priests and the archdiocesan bishops who enabled them. Last month, the calls to indict Bernard Cardinal Law and his onetime lieutenants came to a rather anticlimactic denouement: on July 23, Massachusetts attorney general Tom Reilly unveiled a comprehensive report on the sex-abuse crisis roiling the Boston archdiocese. It detailed widespread damage; indeed, it found as many as 237 priests had preyed on 789 children in 45 communities dating back to 1940. Reilly called the scandal "one of the greatest tragedies to befall children in this Commonwealth, ever"— but concluded nonetheless that it’s not possible to indict the bishops who hid pedophile priests, given that their actions violated no state laws at the time.
The explanation didn’t come as a surprise. Ever since Reilly launched his office’s investigation in March 2002, he’s said that he doubts state laws would allow for prosecution. He reiterated as much on July 23: "No one is more disappointed than I that we cannot prosecute these cases criminally. The laws don’t permit it."
But the sheer injustice of it all — especially given the lengths to which Law and his underlings went to conceal sexual offenses, as the AG’s report plainly documents — has left critics frustrated. On July 28, a mere five days after the report’s release, victims of clergy sexual abuse and their supporters turned to US Attorney Michael Sullivan instead. They hand-delivered a two-page letter to Sullivan, in which they urged him to "consider whether these offenses" — the pattern of cover-ups by bishops — "are punishable under any federal laws." They’ve since called on the state’s top federal prosecutor to investigate archdiocesan managers under federal conspiracy and racketeering statutes. John Harris, of the New England Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), is organizing the push for a federal investigation because, he says, "We’re not going to get anywhere at the state level." He adds, "I’d like the federal laws examined so we get these people out of society. They’re a danger, and they need to be behind bars."
To date, Sullivan has remained conspicuously silent about a possible investigation. Samatha Martin, the spokesperson for the US Attorney’s Office, confirms that Sullivan has received the July 28 letter from victims, as well as a copy of the AG’s report. But that’s about it. She says simply, "We have received all the materials and are reviewing the matter."
As Sullivan plays it close to his vest, legal observers have yet to rule out the possibility of future federal indictments. According to Joseph diGenova, who served as US attorney in the Washington, DC, district throughout the 1980s, the 18 months of relentless press coverage on the clergy-abuse scandal have brought to light a mountain of information. Much of it shows just how much bishops in Boston — and across the nation — knew about the problem of clergy sexual abuse, yet they did nothing to stop to it. "The known public record," he says, "indicates an amount of knowledge that, in a corporate setting, federal prosecutors would find very disturbing." DiGenova points to federal laws on conspiracy and racketeering as "obvious" places for federal prosecutors to begin building a case, although he cautions that such charges "would not be easy to prove." To him, though, that’s not really the issue. Rather, he says, "The issue is whether this conduct is worthy of federal investigation, and I’d say, ‘Yes, it is.’" Mark Tuesday, August 19, 2003