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No charges against Boston diocese leaders, attorney general says

Reilly: Scope of abuse found nearly 'unbelievable'

Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly speaks to reporters Wednesday.
Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly speaks to reporters Wednesday.

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The Catholic archdiocese in Boston was blasted for decades of sexual abuse, but officials in Massachusetts say they won't press criminal charges. CNN's Jason Carroll explains (July 23)
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BOSTON, Massachusetts (CNN) -- Clergy members and others in the Boston Archdiocese probably sexually abused more than 1,000 people, Massachusetts' attorney general said Wednesday, saying the scandal "borders on the unbelievable."

Additionally, Massachusetts law "does not provide a basis for bringing criminal charges" against diocese managers, Attorney General Tom Reilly said at a news conference.

The announcement by was made following the release of a report by his office that said while Cardinal Bernard Law bears "ultimate responsibility" for the "staggering" priestly child sex abuse scandal in the Boston archdiocese, no charges would be filed because child-protection laws in place while abuses were taking place would not allow it.

Reilly said he regrets the conclusion spelled out in the document, and said, "no one is more disappointed" than he and his staff.

"The laws in existence at the time these events occurred do not permit us to initiate criminal charges," said Reilly, pointing out that conduct of the church officials "did not rise to the level of criminal intent." "If we could have we would have" filed charges, but it was "not even a close call" legally.

The report details what it terms a "massive" tragedy. It is the result of an investigation initiated by Reilly that looked into whether the church leaders should be charged for their role in the scandal. The report said it is likely that more than 1,000 people in the diocese were victimized by clergy and others from 1940 until now.

Reilly called the scandal so massive "it borders on the unbelievable," the AP reported.

"Although evidence gathered during the investigation establishes that senior archdiocese managers did not report suspected child sexual abuse to public authorities, the state's child abuse reporting law is not applicable because it was not expanded to include priests until 2002," the report said.

The report did criticize the archdiocese and its practices, saying the investigation produced evidence that the abuse was "due to an institutional acceptance of abuse and a massive and pervasive failure of leadership." It urged the body to institute reforms with vigilance.

Word had leaked out earlier in the week that church officials were unlikely to be charged, prompting a protest by alleged victims at Reilly's Boston office on Tuesday.

"How dare there be no indictments," said Kathleen Dwyer, in a report by The Associated Press.

Dwyer, 58, said she was sexually abused by a priest at her church in Braintree in the early 1950s, when she was 7 years old. She was among two dozen protesters who demonstrated outside the attorney general's office, according to the AP report.

AG report blasts archdiocese

Law, the report said, does not "bear sole responsibility. With rare exception, none of his senior managers advised him to take any of the steps that might have ended the systemic abuse of children.

The report listed other criticisms of the archdiocese:

• Top officials knew of the extent of the problem before it became known to the public.

• The response to reports of sex abuse placed "children at risk."

• The archdiocese did not tell authorities of clergy sex abuse allegations and did not give all pertinent information to authorities during criminal probes.

• "Thorough investigations" were not performed by the archdiocese.

• Children were placed "at risk" by abusive priest transfers.

• Priests who were known sexual abusers were not properly supervised.

The probe could not "produce evidence" of recent or ongoing" sex abuse and said, "It is too soon to conclude that the archdiocese has undertaken the changes necessary to ensure that abuse has stopped and will not occur in the future."

Outrage by public leads to new laws

Cardinal Bernard Law
Cardinal Bernard Law

Law resigned in December after nearly a year of criticism over his role in allowing abusive priests to remain in parish work.

In addition to Law, at least eight other top officials in the Boston Archdiocese were subpoenaed to answer questions about their handling of complaints against priests, according to The Associated Press. They included the Rev. Thomas V. Daily, now a bishop in New York City; the Rev. Robert J. Banks, now bishop in Green Bay, Wisconsin; and the Rev. John B. McCormack, now bishop in Manchester, New Hampshire.

Public outrage over the scandal prompted the state to enact a law making reckless endangerment of children a crime. Under the law, someone who fails to take steps to alleviate a substantial risk of injury or sexual abuse of a child can face criminal charges, the AP reported.

But during the time period when much of the abuse took place -- from the 1950s through the 1990s -- no such laws were on the books, and Reilly has said that prevented him from prosecuting church supervisors.

Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents more than 200 alleged abuse victims in lawsuits against the archdiocese, said he understands why Reilly concluded his hands were tied.

"The attorney general has to act within the law, and as disappointed as I am, I truly believe he has tried to do his best," he said in a report by the AP. "The worst thing for victims would be for him to prosecute someone and have that prosecution fail."

The archdiocese is facing about 500 civil suits from alleged victims of clergy sex abuse. Church officials have repeatedly said they remain committed to working toward an out-of-court settlement.

A Massachusetts state law passed last year adds members of the clergy to a list of professionals required to inform state officials of suspected child abuse.

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