It was a sin of omission – and it has cost the Order of Saint Augustine $1 million to deal with allegations that should have been handled decades ago.
Instead, when the late Cardinal Bernard F. Law was informed of child sexual abuse perpetrated by priests under his supervision, he did virtually nothing to discipline or remove the offenders. Technically, Cardinal Law was not in violation of any legal statutes during his tenure, since the State of Massachusetts had no laws enacted requiring clergy to report cases of child sex abuse before 2002. Nonetheless, he failed inexcusably in his moral and ethical duties.
The current settlement involves five men and three women who were sexually molested as children by two priests in the Boston area. The incidents took place in the 1970s through the early 1980s, when the victims were between 9 and 12 years of age. The out of court settlement is the result of two years of negotiations between the Order of Saint Augustine, of which the two accused priests were members, and the plaintiff's counsel Mitchell Garabedian.
Garabedian himself was instrumental in the creation of the 2002 Massachusetts law that required clergy to report incidents of suspected abuse. He has also successfully argued that there is no statute of limitations on sex crimes against minors, even when these cases are brought decades later when the victims are adults.
This is in fact the situation for most victims who are traumatized as children. Speaking to the Boston Globe, Garabedian noted, “Victims of sexual abuse can only come forward when their coping mechanisms allow them to, and these brave sexual abuse victims came forward when they were ready.” He expressed confidence that his clients will inspire others to come forward.
Cardinal Law, who died late last year at the age of 86, served as the Archbishop of Boston from 1984 until his resignation in December, 2002. At that time, an editorial in the Boston Globe called Law “...the central figure in a scandal of criminal abuse, denial, payoff, and coverup that resonates around the world.”
He was the first high-level Church official to face charges of covering up child sexual abuse by priests. In 2001, he was a named defendant in a number of pedophile cases. According to one victim, Law was aware of the activities of the priest, Father John Geoghan, who had been abusing him. Despite the allegations against Geoghan and others, Law did not remove them from their duties or even inquire into the matter. He simply transferred them from one parish to another, where they continued to have unsupervised access to minors.
The entire scandal triggered an investigation by the Boston Globe, which was published early the following year. That investigation ultimately exposed a pattern of child abuse involving dioceses across the U.S. as well as a number of other countries. In virtually all cases, bishops and other high-ranking Church officials concealed the crimes and simply shuffled the abusers to other parishes.
Now, the Augustinian Order is saying that they are “committed to justice in upholding the dignity of every person,” claiming that it continues to “work diligently to ensure the safety and protection of all children and adults.”
It begs the question of why the Augustinians and other orders were not doing that four decades ago.