Church Changes Course On Abuse

Cardinal Bernard Law. Catholic Archbishop of 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.

Earlier this month, Law announced 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's announcement came the same day 10,000 documents were released detailing how church 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, 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 now being weighed 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 already required to do.

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

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 come forward with allegations claiming that Geoghan fondled or raped them between 1962 and 1995.

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

The archdiocese has faced scrutiny since it became publicly known that Geoghan was assigned to St. Julia's Parish in Weston even though he had been removed from two other parishes after being accused of molesting children.

In July, Law acknowledged he knew about Geoghan's problems in 1984, his first year as cardinal, yet approved the transfer. Wilson D. Rogers Jr., the cardinal's attorney, defended the move last summer, saying the archdiocese had medical assurances that the reassignment was "appropriate and safe."

On Thursday, Law said he has come to realize that the "fundamental flaw" in church policy on priests accused of misconduct was in relying on a psychiatric evaluation after treatment.

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

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