Speak out on the Catholic Church Scandal

By Jim Clarke
Canton Journal [Canton MA]
June 5, 2003

Two Boston Globe reporters came to Canton Tuesday to chronicle their involvement in the reporting that broke and described one of the largest scandals in American history. About 100 local residents attended the meeting. It was a year ago that Boston Globe reporter Bella English was asked by her superiors to find a Catholic parish and report on the condition of the parish in the wake of the ongoing sex abuse scandal in the Catholic Church.

English chose Saint Gerard parish in Canton to report about.

She confessed part of her reasoning was that she resides in Milton. She also said she had heard that Father Mac, Rev. Bernard McGlaughlin of Saint Gerard's, was a great leader.

Fr. McGlaughlin and the parish faced its toughest challenge in May of 2002 when its was reported that Rev. Peter R. Frost, who was the associate pastor at St. Gerard's 20 years before, allegedly molested a couple of boys who worked in the rectory.

Fr. McGlaughlin took immediate action in the parish, sending letters to parishioners saying that he had no idea about Frost's alleged actions. He also asked a psychologist and social worker to meet with fellow parishioners.

For months, English attended all kinds events the parish had to offer; church services, baptisms, barbeques, and other fundraisers. As a reporter, it was her job ultimately to talk to people along with taking in the experience of being involved with the parish.

English said a lot of pain was shared and a lot of healing came out of her and others talking with area Catholics about the sex abuse scandal that was first reported by her publication.

She praised Saint Gerard's Tuesday for its kindness for letting her into its family during difficult and trying times for the Catholic Church.

"It may not have worked with any other parish," said English, referring to her tough assignment and the willingness of Saint Gerard's to cooperate.

The church sex abuse scandal reached national and international significance during ensuing months. It climaxed with Pope John Paul II calling American cardinals to Rome for a meeting regarding the abuse charges. Cardinal Bernard Law, the head of the Boston Archdiocese, would soon after resign for his role in hiding and transferring sex offenders involved in the church.

The scandal had to have originated somewhere. That somewhere is where Kevin Cullen came in. An investigative reporter for the Boston Globe, it was Cullen and his team of reporters and editors, in the newspaper's basement on Morrissey Boulevard, who broke the scandal.

For their reporting and investigative efforts on the scandal, the paper recently received a Pulitzer Prize.

Born in South Boston, Cullen grew up in Malden and attended the University of Massachusetts. He currently belongs to a parish in Hingham.

Cullen explained to his audience that in his 20 years as a reporter, it had been tough to report anything negative about the Catholic Church as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation because of the hierarchy of both.

Cullen felt that the media did not do enough to hold these institutions accountable nationwide.

"We were too worried about being labeled anti-Catholic," admitted Cullen.

Before opening the meeting up to the seven young men and women and their questions, Cullen said he wishes he and his superiors could have done a better job in breaking the church scandal, although he acknowledged that he and his colleagues had done well..

The young committee organized by the parish to research the scandal, interview people involved, and question Cullen included Tracy Morris of Milton, Diana Cole of Canto and Kiley Phalen, both students at CHS, Shawn Hynes, a Boston College High School graduate, Peter Tilly, a Xaverian High School junior and Ryan Masciarelli, and Erin Hines, both of whom are students at Merrimack College.

When asked when the story of abuse in the church first broke, Cullen cited the 1992 story of Father James Porter but explained that this story was treated only as an isolated incident.

Cullen was asked by Morris how long the abuse had been going on. Cullen explained that there just was not enough evidence to say that the abuse is worse now than it was 100 or so years ago. However, Cullen said he suspects the abuse of children has been significant over the years.

"The children's abuse has been going on as long as these type of people have been exposed to children," said Cullen.

Cullen believes that area Catholic institutions such as Boston College will do the research and eventually provide empirical evidence about how long the actual abuse has been going on.

Growing up in the Catholic Church, Cullen said he never personally witnessed any inappropriate behavior directed at him or others.

"I was an altar boy," said Cullen. "I never saw anything like this."

Cullen said he was not surprised about the sex abuse charges because he knew how secret the church was and realized that it is tough to challenge an authority figure such as the Catholic Church.

As far as Cullen's personal involvement with the story went, he said his first involvement came by accident. He was covering the Boston Red Sox team sale in early 2002. He was in constant contact with then Middlesex District Attorney Thomas F. Reilly concerning the legalities involved with the sale of the team.

In the middle of the sex abuse scandal, Cardinal Law made a statement saying that he personally would turn in any child offenders he hears about from then on. Reilly, while talking to Cullen about the Red Sox sale, said that Law's statements "were not good enough" and that a system had to be put in place for sex offenders in the church.

Cullen got Reilly to go on the record with his comments as well as his outrage toward Law for his general remarks about the abuse scandal.

Cullen elaborated on his personal involvement with the scandal outside of his Globe reporting.

"We also wrote a book by committee," said Cullen. Cullen and his reporting colleagues wrote a book about the abuse scandal and are donating the proceeds from the book to an unnamed charity. Cullen contributed a few chapters plus an introduction.

Copies of the book were sold following Tuesday's meeting to attendees and were autographed by Cullen.

Credibility was an issue that Cullen and fellow reporters had to deal with in interviewing victims and their families, he said.

"You jump through certain hoops to judge credibility," Cullen said.

He said his conversations with prosecutors and attorneys helped him and other reporters identify more credible abuse cases. He explained the process came down to extensive interviewing, and, in many cases, it came down to a priest's word as opposed to a victim's word.

"There were false claims made," said Cullen. "We ran very few blind allegations."

The Globe's current policy, said Cullen, allows abuse victims to make a decision on whether they want to be identified publicly.

One of the toughest parts of covering the scandal, said Cullen, was having to interview the actual priests accused of sexual abuse.

"Many priests admitted having a problem," Cullen said. "There were very few outright denials."

Cullen and fellow reporters confronted certain priests with evidence and asked for comment.

"There were some (priest) suicides in other parts of the country," said Cullen.

Cullen described his overall experience covering the scandal as being somber. He admitted it was hard to celebrate the awards the Globe and individuals received for coverage of the events.

Cullen described himself as reporting it as a reporter and living it as a parishioner. He said he was surprised and pleased by the support the general public gave him for his work on reporting the scandal. He explained that Boston is a very Catholic city and that he and fellow Globe journalists felt that they would be harshly criticized by many for having political motivations and for trying to "bring down" the Catholic Church.

Despite the limited coverage the church scandal receives today, Cullen thinks that the media will still be covering the topic for the next 20 years.

Asked whether the crisis impacted his own faith, Cullen said it did not.

"I have had only great experiences with the church and fathers," he said. "Some of the greatest, most heroic people I have ever met in my life have been priests and nuns."

Cullen also praised victims and their families for being the real heroes to emerge from the scandal.

"The victims and families were very courageous in coming forward," he said, adding they faced no guarantee their stories of sexual abuse would be believed by the public or reporters when they spoke out.

"They were telling reporters for the first time what had happened," Cullen said, and frequently spoke with reporters before they told their own families.

After concluding with a few questions from the audience, Cullen praised the panel of high school and college students who gave up their time to attend.

"I think it's pretty cool that you kids are up here," Cullen said.


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