Boston Scandal

February 18, 2002

Fr. Peter Daly

The pedophilia scandal plaguing the Archdiocese of Boston is of concern to the whole church. The distressing news has an impact far beyond Catholic New England.

It discredits the work of many good people.  It calls into question the integrity of our leadership.  It sets back efforts to recruit priestly vocations.  It undercuts the trust necessary for youth programs.

Even in my own parish, hundreds of miles away, the scandal has surfaced in the prayer of the faithful and in after mass conversations.  Boston is not an island.  The bad news there touches us all.

The facts of this case have been widely reported.  The Archdiocese of Boston admits that a priest, John J. Goeghan, was sent to a series of assignments over 35 years, even while his superiors knew that he had a history of molesting children.  Over 130 of his victims have now come forward.  The Archdiocese has settled more than 50 lawsuits, thus far paying out more than $10 million.  Geoghan has been convicted of one charge of molesting a minor and is now on trial for rape of a minor.

Under the glare of publicity the Archdiocese admits that it has settled similar claims against 70 priests in the last ten years. 

On January 9, Cardinal Law apologized for his “tragically incorrect” judgment in these cases.  He said he apologized from a “grieving heart.” 

Although Law said that, to his knowledge, no pedophiles were actively functioning as priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, eight more priests have been suspended since scandal broke. 

The effect on the 900 priests who remain in active ministry in Boston has been terrible.  One priest from the Boston area told me that priests are now hesitant to wear a Roman collar in public.  He said some priests report being spit upon and cursed at. 

This is a catastrophe.  How could it be allowed to happen?

It appears that there is a clerical culture, which places concern for the reputation of the church and the clergy over the protection of children.  As Cardinal Law said, this is “tragically wrong.” 

When it comes to the safety and protection of children everyone; bishop, priest, deacon, or lay person, should be subjected to the same high level of scrutiny and review.  No one should be allowed to function in any official ministry of the church who is a threat to children.

In the Archdiocese of Washington, we have taken this responsibility very seriously since the mid 1980s.

Everyone who works with children in our Archdiocese, in any capacity (even the school janitor) is subjected to a criminal background check and must attend a seminar on the protection of children.  Even the slightest evidence that a person has tendencies toward pedophilia or any other dangerous tendency (such as drug use), disqualifies that person from working with children.

As a pastor I have been instructed by our auxiliary bishop to refuse permission for people to work with Boy Scouts, religious education, the youth group and even our adult choir on mere allegations of impropriety.  These have been some of the most difficult conversations I have ever had, but they are necessary.  

Each year, when we finger print our parish volunteers and employees, I am fingerprinted along with them.

For many years the priests of our Archdiocese have been required to attend a yearly seminar on the prevention of and response to pedophilia.

I personally am more cautious than ever.  I do not supervise the altar servers. (A laywoman does that.)  I am never alone with a child.  On parish trips we take care to have many parental chaperones.

Even when children come to first confession, I ask the parents to come with them and sit nearby.  I never touch a child unless there are many witnesses.

Since I was ordained in 1986, I have known of six priests who were forced to resign after credible allegations of child abuse. 

All of this may seem extreme, but I think that it is appropriate.   The primary concern of any shepherd is not other shepherds, but the protection of the flock, especially the little ones.