Special Reports

The scandal and coverup

Note: This article is from the Globe’s original online special section on the Spotlight investigation into clergy sex abuse.

When the Rev. James Porter abuse cases became public in the early 1990s, and again in January 2002 when the Globe revealed the extent of Rev. John Geoghan’s abusive behavior, Cardinal Bernard F. Law characterized these as isolated incidents. But as documents started flowing from the church in 2002 and more alleged victims came forward, it soon became clear that clergy abuse was, in fact, a systemic problem in the Boston Archdiocese, involving scores of priests and hundreds of victims across the metropolitan area.

For decades church leaders kept horrific tales of abuse out of the public eye through an elaborate culture of secrecy, decepetion, and intimidation. Victims who came forward with abuse claims were ignored or paid off, while accused priests were quietly transferred from parish to parish or sent for brief periods of psychological counseling.

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Far from being unaware of abusive behavior, Cardinal Law and his deputies had detailed information on many of the archdiocese’s most serious molesters. Yet it was not until decades of allegations had accumulated against them that many abusive clergymen were removed from parish ministry. Despite reports of child rape and other criminal behavior by clergymen, church leaders made no apparent effort to inform law enforcement authorities.

The scandal began brewing in Boston, but it was not isolated here. As public furor grew, other dioceses began confronting abusive clergy in their ranks. By the end of 2002, some 1,200 priests had been accused of abuse nationwide, according to a study by The New York Times. Over the course of the year, five US prelates resigned in connection with sex scandals, including Boston’s Cardinal Law -- joining four others who had resigned in previous years. The crisis was also felt worldwide, with accusations of abuse or the mishandling of scandals forcing the resignation of bishops in Argentina, Germany, Ireland, Poland, Wales, Scotland, Canada, Switzerland, and Austria.

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