Grand Jury Completes Church Probe: Reilly Indicates Abuse Indictments Unlikely

By Robin Washington
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
April 2, 2003

A grand jury that spent months probing the Archdiocese of Boston clergy sexual-abuse scandal - including hearing the testimony of Bernard Cardinal Law - has completed its work but is unlikely to issue any indictments, say victim advocates who met with Attorney General Thomas Reilly this week.

The advocates, who gathered at the AG's office Monday, said Reilly invoked the grand jury's secrecy rules in declining to specify what final action the panel or his office would take.

But they said they repeatedly asked him if indictments would be forthcoming, and he indicated that would be "highly unlikely."

"He definitely gave that impression," said one of several participants who asked that their names be withheld.

Said another: "We asked him several times will there be indictments. He said, `I have to say what I already said publicly, it would be very, very hard to indict.' "

Though Reilly previously has spoken about the difficulty in bringing church officials who enabled abusers to justice because of statute of limitations laws, the participant noted Reilly's words this time came after the completion of the eight-month probe.

"He said, `We're in our final phases. The grand jurors have been sent home. We're deciding what to do,' " the advocate said.

Short of indictments, those avenues include the striking of a civil agreement between the AG's office and the church or a report from the grand jury detailing the abuses, or no action at all.

A spokeswoman for Reilly declined comment. Speaking generally on grand jury and Attorney General powers, Boston College law professor Michael Cassidy said Reilly could invoke his role as the trustee of public charities to strike an enforceable settlement.

"They could draft a complaint and draft a settlement in which (the church) agrees it violated certain obligations as a public charity," he said. "Basically you would be opening and closing a civil case in the same day."

One participant at the meeting said Reilly intimated a report was the more likely option, however.

"Indictments would be great, but I think we will get a good scathing report. Even if nobody's going to jail, the public will be informed about the way the church operated and continues to operate," the advocate said.

But another participant described Reilly as more vague, accentuating instead stronger child-abuse reporting laws as the solution to clergy sexual abuse.

"He kept saying, `We believe our approach is pragmatic.' That's big talk, little stick. There's deference (to the church) easing out of him, and it's shocking."

The advocate also quoted Reilly saying: "We have a whole bunch of information from the grand jury. We're trying to decide the right communication vehicle."

In another legal development, an Appeals Court judge yesterday denied the Boston archdiocese's motion that the higher court intervene in hundreds of civil suits on First Amendment grounds.

In his decision, Justice Scott Kafker wrote that First Amendment issues should be dealt with in each individual case.

"On a matter of such importance, raising concerns as fundamental as the protection of children from sexual abuse and the separation of church and state, any appellate review . . . would surely be enhanced and the legal issues refined, by the full development of the facts in particular cases," he wrote.

Archdiocese spokesman The Rev. Christopher Coyne said church lawyers are disappointed but have not decided whether to again appeal.

Also, at Suffolk Superior Court, the Rev. James Talbot was indicted on three counts of assault and battery stemming from alleged child molestation after a grand jury returned new indictments to replace earlier ones that had been dismissed.

"We had agreed to the defense motion that some of the previously indicted charges should be dismissed because the crimes did not exist at the time," Suffolk District Attorney spokesman David Procopio said.

Talbot, a former Boston College High School teacher, pleaded not guilty. Arguments by lawyers for his Jesuit order about First Amendment isses in the case were postponed until April 15.

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