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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 7/26/2003

The church's enduring shame

A Massachusetts grand jury wound up a 16-month investigation of extensive sexual abuse and its cover-up in the Boston Catholic archdiocese without indicting anyone.

But even though many of the victims, some taken advantage of 40 to 60 years ago, are disappointed and angry, the fact remains that neither the archdiocese, its hierarchy, its child molesters, nor the Catholic Church in the United States is avoiding public punishment.

Cardinal Bernard Law, who headed the archdiocese during more recent cover-ups, lost his job. The archdiocese lost the trust of many of the faithful, along with their money.

Some 250 clergy and other workers have been revealed as sex offenders and many ranking prelates exposed as condoners of sexual abuse involving 789 children, and perhaps far more, over several decades. Not an easy reputation to live down. The mistrust has spread through the nation, with many hundreds of others coming forward with similar stories of violation.

The numbers staggered Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly. “The mistreatment of children was so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable,” he said, blaming church leaders - Cardinal Law, who resigned under pressure, and his senior bishops.

Mr. Reilly said the cardinal “bears the ultimate responsibility for the tragic treatment of children that occurred during his tenure.” His advisers who failed him and the church's mission - which is not about first avoiding scandal - got their knocks as well.

While hiding the sex crimes of priests primarily, they held the church up to ridicule and derision in this country, made it the butt of late-night comics' jokes, and opened the archdiocese up to 500 civil suits by alleged victims of sexual abuse at the hands mainly of priests.

The statute of limitations, a legally established time period within which criminal charges may be filed, was a factor in the grand jury's failure to indict. Members found no evidence of recent or ongoing child sexual abuse.

“Given the magnitude of the mistreatment and the fact that the archdiocese's response over the past 18 months remains inadequate,” Mr. Reilly said, he is unwilling to conclude that the abuse has stopped or won't recur.

Since people began coming forward, the Massachusetts legislature has enacted a law criminalizing behavior of those who don't try to ease the risk of sexual abuse of children. It has also added the clergy to the professionals who must tell state officials of suspected child abuse. Had these laws already been in place, there would likely have been indictments.

Even so, terrible things happened, and it will be generations before the church recovers.



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