Law & Disorder

Boston's priest-pedophile crisis

The Archdiocese of Boston has been reeling for two months from continuing disclosures about pedophilia among priests, and from documentation of how members of the hierarchy, up to and including Cardinal Bernard Law, attempted to mute the voices of the victims of abuse and protect the priest perpetrators. The Boston Globe ran a series of articles beginning January 6, many of them based on documents submitted to the court during the criminal child molestation trial of one of the priests, John Geoghan (now defrocked). The Globe investigation made public a series of letters from the 1980s in which the hierarchy responded sympathetically to Geoghan and documents disclosing that Geoghan had been reassigned to parish duties despite knowledge about his abuses.

Further investigative reporting by the Globe established that in the last ten years the hierarchy had settled cases of alleged abuse by at least seventy priests who had served in the archdiocese over a forty-year period. In response, Cardinal Law apologized to the victims, instituted a new zero-tolerance policy, agreed to refer all future allegations of abuse to criminal prosecutors, and also, under pressure from the media and the state legislature, to refer past cases of abuse, going back forty years, for prosecution. As a result, the names of about eighty priests have been sent to prosecutors. (Currently there are about six hundred and fifty diocesan priests...

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About the Author

Mary Jo Bane is the Thornton Bradshaw Professor of Public Policy and Management at the Harvard Kennedy School, where she has been on the faculty since 1981. From 1993 to 1996 she was assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.