Boston Archdiocese changes course, says all old cases of abuse must be reported

Friday, January 25th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

BOSTON (AP) _ Reversing a long-standing policy, Cardinal Bernard Law of the Archdiocese of Boston said he will require clergy to report even past allegations of sexual abuse by priests.

Law did not say when or how he would report the allegations but he reiterated that he wasn't aware of any priest currently holding a position in the archdiocese who has been ``guilty of the sexual abuse of a minor.''

``As I reflect on this whole issue, from the perspective of the child, I believe that everything that can possibly be done to protect a child from that kind of abuse must be done,'' Law said Thursday at his second news conference on clergy sexual abuse in two weeks.

Earlier this month, Law had said clergy in the archdiocese would be ordered to report sexual abuse to authorities, not just to church officials as the Vatican had ordered. His policy, however, was not retroactive.

Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the cardinal, has said retroactive reporting would be inappropriate because the church gave assurances of confidentiality to victims.

But state Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, who met Wednesday with an archdiocesan lawyer, said: ``When it comes to abuse of kids, there should be no exceptions.''

State legislation currently being weighed would require clergy to report evidence of sexual abuse of children to the Department of Social Services, as doctors, teachers and social workers are already required to do.

``I'm really talking about moving forward long-term, not just in the moment,'' Law said.

The archbishop named a panel of medical experts and educators to look at the archdiocese's policy on ways to deal with victims and to prevent 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'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 Rev. John Geoghan _ and transferred him from parish to parish _ even after warnings from doctors and allegations of sexual abuse of children.

Geoghan was convicted last week of indecent assault on a 10-year-old boy and faces two more criminal trials. He's also named in 84 civil lawsuits related to alleged abuse.

Geoghan, 66, was defrocked in 1998. More than 130 people have come forward with allegations claiming that Geoghan fondled or raped them between 1962 and 1995.

The archdiocese faced scrutiny and Law acknowledged he knew about Geoghan's problems in 1984, his first year as archbishop, yet approved his transfer to another parish even though he had been removed from two others after being accused of molesting children.

``I wish I could undo what I now see to have been mistakes,'' he said. ``However, that is not a possibility.''