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162 Boston Priests Accused in Sex Scandal

A study ordered by the Roman Catholic Church finds that, from 1950 to 2003, 7% of clerics in the archdiocese allegedly abused 815 children.

February 27, 2004|Elizabeth Mehren | Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — The Roman Catholic archdiocese here on Thursday released a report showing that 162 of its priests have been accused of sexually abusing 815 children since 1950.

But while Archbishop Sean Patrick O'Malley welcomed the study as proof that "the church is finally and unflinchingly committed to facing this scandal head-on," some clerical abuse victims and members of Boston's Catholic community remained skeptical.

"It is terribly misleading, and dangerous, to imply that the problems are behind us," said Bill Gately, New England co-coordinator for SNAP, or Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "These numbers come from an authority who, by its own admission, had terrible record-keeping. We have no accurate way to measure the number of victims who have yet to come forward."

The report was commissioned by a review board created by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in response to the clerical sex abuse crisis that erupted here in January 2002.

The scandal spread worldwide, implicating hundreds of priests in the abuse of thousands of children. The crisis led to the resignation in December 2002 of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, who oversaw the nation's fourth largest archdiocese for close to two decades as the scandal raged.

The Boston Archdiocese had paid $120.6 million to settle sexual abuse claims through December 2003, according to the report released Thursday.

To finance the settlement costs, the archdiocese has relied heavily on insurance. But after assuming office last year, O'Malley made plans to sell major parcels of church property, including the mansion where Law lived during his tenure. O'Malley also has announced that he will consolidate some parishes -- closing little-used churches -- to save money.

The 162 priests cited in the new report represent about 7% of the 2,324 ordained priests who served in the Boston archdiocese from 1950 to 2003.

The figures were compiled by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York as part of a nationwide examination of clerical sexual abuse.

O'Malley used the report as an occasion to "apologize once again to all who have been hurt so grievously by priests and the bishops who were responsible for supervising them."

He called the clerical abuse figures "truly horrific."

But Gately, who was abused by a Boston archdiocese priest from 1965 to 1967, dismissed the report as "a self-selected survey," adding: "It is not so much a report, but a survey of different dioceses, some of which did not participate."

Jim Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay organization formed here in the wake of the scandal, said Thursday that the report raises almost as many questions as it answers.

"What we now know is they knew a lot, they did very little and they did a great deal to cover up," Post said.

Moreover, said Post, "what it points to is that there has been an explosion of people coming forward, and there is no reason not to think there will be even more people coming forward in the future."

The scandal began with the January 2002 trial of former priest John Geoghan. Documents released in conjunction with the case showed that Boston church officials knew some priests were molesting children. Rather than removing them from the priesthood, church authorities transferred the priests to other parishes.

Geoghan was convicted of sexually abusing one child. He was serving a nine-year sentence when he was murdered in prison last year.

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