No File Checks for Priests Promoted in '80s

By Eric Convey
Boston Herald
February 13, 2003

Even as they began to grasp the seriousness of the clergy molestation scandal in the early 1980s, Archdiocese of Boston officials promoted priests to key positions without checking records that would have shown if they were known abusers, according to testimony released yesterday.

The Rev. Charles Higgins, who served as the archbishop's delegate handling abuse allegations, offered no explanation for the policy during testimony in the civil case involving allegations against the Rev. Paul Shanley.

Rather then look for signs of trouble, Higgins said, priests and bishops in charge of promoting colleagues to positions as pastors - where they would run their own parishes - were more concerned about leadership skills.

Decisions came "from reputation, from looking at his pastoral record, from the pastoral visitation to the individual parish where we listen to the lay people and their needs," Higgins said. "And that would cultivate if the particular individual had the qualities that they were looking for, for that particular parish."

When plaintiffs' attorney David Thomas asked Higgins whether personnel files, which would include abuse allegations, were checked, Higgins said, "no."

The policy has since changed, he said.

Also in his testimony, Higgins said Bernard Cardinal Law could have read even the most confidential files at any time during the promotion process.

"The archbishop has freedom to access any files," Higgins said, adding later, "the cardinal can access the material freely if he chooses to do so."

Law has said during testimony that he did not make a practice of checking personnel files before promoting priests, blaming poor record-keeping for part of the abuse problem. Law never, however, said that he was denied access to files he sought.

While questions put to Higgins by Thomas covered a variety of personnel matters, the focus was the archdiocese's handling of the Rev. Paul Shanley, a priest accused of abusing several children.

Thomas asked: "With regard to Paul Shanley's file then, am I correct in stating that Cardinal Law could have asked for Father Shanley's personnel file?"

"He could have," Higgins responded.

Other supervisors also could have read the file, which included numerous red flags regarding Shanley, Higgins said.

The plaintiffs maintain Shanley went on to abuse at least two boys - charges the priest denies


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.