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Boston College should be tough on priests who covered up abuse

By now, the story of predator priests in the Roman Catholic Church and the young victims they sexually abused is so sadly familiar that it’s hard to shock people. But fresh details are still cause for outrage, especially when they loop back to Boston and raise new questions about accountability.

As reported recently by the Globe, the Rev. Bradley M. Schaeffer was the leader of the Jesuits in the Chicago area when an anguished father came to him in 1993 with concerns about an inappropriate relationship between the charismatic retreat leader Donald J. McGuire and the man’s young son. Schaeffer never investigated the complaint or contacted police. Instead, he sent McGuire for treatment of a sexual disorder, and later expressed doubts that the treatment had been effective. But he didn’t take further steps against him, except to ban him from traveling with anyone under 21.

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McGuire went on to commit more offenses, and today is serving 25 years in federal prison for repeatedly molesting a 13-year-old boy in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, the Jesuits face a lawsuit for their failure to protect one of McGuire’s alleged victims. Schaeffer, who looked the other way so long ago, went on to become a member of the Boston College Board of Trustees and leads a study center for future Jesuit priests that is affiliated with BC.

Much of the reporting on the clergy sexual abuse scandal focused on parish priests and the bishops who protected them. The McGuire case switches the spotlight to the Jesuits, the largest religious order in the United States, with frequent interaction with young people who attend their high schools, colleges, and universities.

Schaeffer, now 62, resigned from the BC board on Thursday, though he continues to serve in the study center and on the boards of other Jesuit institutions. He has said he deeply regrets that his actions were not enough to stop McGuire “from engaging in these horrific crimes.” Each center or organization should make its own determination of the appropriateness of Schaeffer’s continued presence. But BC, as a leading national university, should be more rigorous in choosing its board members. BC officials said the university had no knowledge of the McGuire case or of Schaeffer’s role in it when he was elected to the board in 2004, even though the first public lawsuit by McGuire’s alleged victims had been filed a year earlier.

The McGuire case and Schaeffer’s role in it are emblematic of the culture of avoidance that permeated the system — and, to some degree, still does.

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