Pols Eye Tougher Penalties for Failure to Report Abuse

By Robin Washington
Boston Herald
March 13, 2003

Less than a year after voting in tough new child abuse reporting laws, state lawmakers heard testimony yesterday on the need to impose stricter penalties on those who fail to come forward when they suspect a child may be being harmed.

Three bills presented to the Joint Committee on Criminal Justice propose increasing the penalty for failing to report abuse - currently a $1,000 fine - to fines ranging from $5,000 to $25,000, coupled with jail term recommendations from six months to 2 1/2 years.

Attorney General Tom Reilly, who wrote a bill presented by Sen. Therese Murray (D-Plymouth), said the proposals "puts some teeth" in the current law, which last year added clergy to the list of mandatory reporters.

Three alleged sexual abuse victims of priests also spoke, including Gary Bergeron of the Survivors of Joseph Birmingham, who said he doubted the law would have encouraged anyone to report his own abuse by the now-deceased priest.

"I don't think $1,000 would have made a difference, considering the hush money the church has paid over the past 40 years," he said.

Committee co-chairman Sen. Thomas McGee (D-Lynn) said it was too early to predict which, if any, of the bills would be adopted, but said his colleagues listened intently to the alleged victims.

"Hearing from people who have been affected in person is very powerful," he said.

Though Reilly pushed for a stronger law, he did not say how effective the measure passed last year has proven to be.

That law included a retroactive provision, which required anyone with knowledge of past child abuse to report incidents by June 3, 2002.

Though thousands of pages on alleged molesters in the Boston archdiocese have since been made public, only one known report by a priest of past child molestation was filed before the deadline.

The Rev. David O'Leary told district attorneys in Massachusetts and New Hampshire that the Rev. Robert V. Gale of Boston allegedly abused a child near the church-run Camp Fatima in Gilmanton Iron Works, N.H.

O'Leary also sent a copy to Manchester Bishop John B. McCormack, the Boston archdiocese's former clergy personnel chief.

"Greetings, John," O'Leary wrote. "My report concerning Bob Gale should not be new. I wrote a few years ago when (the camp director) invited Bob Gale to celebrate a Mass (at) a camp reunion."

In letters to McCormack in 1993 and in 2002, O'Leary, a former Camp Fatima volunteer and the senior chaplain at Tufts University, warned Gale should not be allowed at the camp.

"The victim told me firsthand (about the abuse). My promise to him was that Gale would never be at that property," he told the Herald, adding he had no choice but to report Gale again last year.

"That's what the law says and that's what I did."

Although Gale has not been charged in the alleged New Hampshire incident, he was arrested by Bay State authorities two months after O'Leary's report on charges he raped a boy at Waltham's St. Jude Parish in the 1980s.

He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial after being released on his own recognizance.

Polly Hickey, who knew both O'Leary and Gale in the 1980s when she served as a counselor at Camp Fatima, said she was not surprised by O'Leary's action.

"He just was a good, moral guy," she said.

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