Scores of priests involved in sex abuse cases

Scores of priests involved in sex abuse cases

Category: Sexual Abuse

Under an extraordinary cloak of secrecy, the Archdiocese of Boston in the last 10 years has quietly settled child molestation claims against at least 70 priests in Boston, according to an investigation by the Globe Spotlight Team.

In the public arena alone, the Globe found court records and other documents that identify 19 present and former priests as accused pedophiles. Four have been convicted of criminal charges of sex abuse, including former priest John J. Geoghan. Two others face criminal charges.

But those public cases represent just a fraction of the priests whose cases have been disposed of in private negotiations that never brought the parties near a courthouse, according to interviews with many of the attorneys involved.

One law firm alone won financial settlements for its clients against at least 45 priests and five brothers from religious orders, according to the lead attorney in those cases, Roderick MacLeish Jr.

Although the settlements are secret, the church’s annual directories, which list where priests are assigned, are public. From them, the Globe developed a database to track the assignments of clergy, and those data strongly suggest that large numbers of priests were involved in sexual abuse cases that were settled.

The database identified 102 priests who were placed on sick leave or otherwise removed from parish assignments in the early to mid-1990s. The archdiocese settled claims of sexual abuse against at least 30 of those priests, according to public records, lawyers involved in the cases, and, in some instances, their own admissions.

The estimate of 70 is conservative, according to lawyers. It includes priests named in lawsuits, the 50 cited by MacLeish, the estimates of other attorneys who also settled cases privately, and interviews with some victims who have contacted the Globe about their settlements. Moreover, the Globe learned of about 20 other court suits where the records have been impounded.

In another sign of the extent of the clergy misconduct, including sexual abuse, the church’s annual directories show that the number of priests shifted out of parishes and placed in such categories as “sick leave,” “absent on leave,” and “awaiting assignment” grew to 107 in 1994. That is more than three times the annual number placed in similar categories a decade earlier.

To be sure, some of those priests appear to have had other reasons to have been sidelined. Two of them, in recent interviews, insisted that they were removed for alcohol-related problems.

Of the priests who did abuse children, many were sent off to be chaplains in hospitals and prisons. But Cardinal Bernard F. Law said this month that no priest who has abused children will hold any assignment in the archdiocese. The cardinal appears to be acting on that promise. Since last week, two of the priests have said in interviews that they were recently told that they are being removed from the rolls of archdiocesan priests.

Even if no more than 70 pedophile priests were involved in settlements in the last decade, that represents an enormous drain on the church’s ability to staff its churches: the Boston Archdiocese now has only about 650 active diocesan priests.

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