Experts Lament Unheeded Advice

By Rita Ciolli
Newsday [Long Island NY]
February 10, 2003

Msgr. William F. Murphy met Dr. Carol Nadelson at a Vatican reception in January 1993.

In Rome, the discussion quickly turned to the hottest topic in their hometown of Boston, the case of the Rev. James Porter, who was accused of molesting more than 100 children.

It was a sign of what was yet to come. "We are really concerned about this issue; would you be willing to meet with the cardinal about it when we get back to Boston?" Nadelson recalled Murphy asking.

At the time, Murphy was a top aide to Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston and Nadelson was a nationally recognized abuse expert on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. She was part of a delegation meeting with Pope John Paul II about mental illness.

A few weeks later Murphy asked her and her husband, Theodore, also a psychiatrist, on the faculty of Boston University medical school, to a luncheon. Murphy also invited Carolyn and Eli Newberger. Several months earlier, Eli Newberger, a pediatrician who founded the child protection program at Boston's Children's Hospital, had invited Murphy to a seminar on the Porter case.

It was an event the two husband-and-wife teams would never forget because of the atmosphere, the early warnings they gave about sexually abusive priests, and their shock at the response they received.

Carolyn Newberger was a clinical psychologist on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and had just testified as an expert witness in priest abuse cases in the Southwest. Among the four high-powered experts, there were 100 years of experience in dealing with abuse cases.

At the luncheon, the guests remember sitting at one end of a long table in the dining room of Law's private residence. Near Law were Murphy, the Msgr. John McCormack, now bishop of New Hampshire's diocese, and six other priests.

As for the menu, Carolyn Newberger only remembers soup; Carol Nadelson recalls her husband joking about the "mystery meat." But both remember being the only women there, except for the nuns in pearl gray habits who served the food.

And as Jews, all of them remember being surprised and flattered at finding themselves in the place -- the dining room of one of the most powerful men in Boston and the American Catholic Church -- discussing an extraordinarily sensitive topic for almost two hours. "A large part of the discussion was about pedophilia and the likelihood to molest again," said Carolyn Newberger. "We told them the overwhelming evidence is that people drawn to children as sexual objects cannot turn that behavior off."

She recalled being asked whether pedophilia can be cured. "We all told them the evidence is that they can't," Newberger said in an interview last week.

Eli Newberger told the priests their only hope of getting pedophiles to stop is instilling the fear that they might get caught. "The mandated reporting of child abuse to civil authorities needed to be the policy," he said.

Law's response was that the church couldn't adopt such a policy. "He kept talking about canon law and how we just can't report these cases," recalled Eli Newberger. "I could tell by his tone that it was unthinkable," he said of Law. In an e-mail on Friday, Murphy declined to discuss the luncheon.

Carol Nadelson, who specializes in treating physicians who become sexually involved with patients, volunteered to help the diocese review how it screens candidates for the priesthood. The Newbergers offered to develop a reporting process.

The four said they were thanked by Law. None heard from anyone in the Boston church again.

Ten years later, to cool the outcry of Boston Catholics, Law announced that sexual abuse of children would be reported to law enforcement, a policy later adopted by all the bishops in the nation.

"I am very angry. I really feel betrayed," said Carolyn Newberger.

Eli Newberger expressed particular disappointment in Murphy. "He was very visible, a part of the cultural and intellectual life of this town. He was a champion of interfaith relationships and understanding across ethnic and racial boundaries," he said.

To Carol Nadelson, Murphy seemed like a "genuinely good guy. It seemed in my assessment that he was being serious and concerned about sexual abuse. He was seen as one of the good guys in that crowd."

Now, as the details of many abuse cases are made public, she is disappointed he just went along with Law. "I am sure people like him are in enormous conflict, but they have to own up to what happened."


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