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Sexual Abuse Cases Change Archdiocese Policy

January 25, 2002|From Associated Press

BOSTON — Cardinal Bernard Law broke from long-standing church policy Thursday and said he will now require clergy and officials of the Archdiocese of Boston to report to authorities even past allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Law also named a panel of medical experts and educators to look at the archdiocese's policy on dealing with victims and preventing sexual abuse of children.

"This is a tall order and what I am sharing with you now is the beginning of a process, the beginning of a journey," Law said, as he again apologized to those victimized by priests.

Law had announced this month that clergy and archdiocesan officials would be required from now on to report allegations of sexual abuse to authorities, not just to church officials, as the Vatican had ordered. His policy, however, was not retroactive, meaning it did not apply to past allegations.

Law has said anything learned through confession or spiritual counseling would not be revealed. He gave no indication whether that would be changed.

"If carried out, it seems to be an honest and forthright effort to deal with a specific problem," said Tom Fox, publisher of the National Catholic Reporter. "The larger question is, what is it within the priesthood that's creating a problem that's allowing these problems to continue."

Law's announcement came at the close of a two-day archdiocese meeting with 500 priests, and the same day 10,000 pages were released detailing how Catholic leaders continued to support the former priest, John Geoghan--and transferred him from parish to parish--even after warnings from doctors and allegations of sexual abuse of children.

Geoghan, who has been accused of molesting 130 youngsters, was convicted last week of fondling a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool and faces two more criminal trials. He is also named in 84 lawsuits.

Legislation under consideration by state lawmakers would require clergy to report evidence of sexual abuse of children to the Department of Social Services, as doctors, teachers and social workers are required to do.

The court papers released Thursday include transcripts of depositions that show how even as colleagues became aware of accusations against Geoghan, they failed to notify authorities.

Geoghan, 66, was defrocked in 1998. More than 130 people have alleged that Geoghan fondled or raped them between 1962 and 1995. Law has said he knew about Geoghan's problems in 1984.

The papers show praise from Law for Geoghan's "effective life of ministry, sadly impaired by illness," and little mention of the alleged victims.

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