Church Task Force Pledges to Release Report on Protecting Children From Abuse

Members of a task force formed by Cardinal Bernard Law pledged at their first meeting Saturday to produce a public report on ways to protect children from sexual abuse by priests.

Law formed the Cardinal's Commission for the Protection of Children and selected its 15 members after it was revealed that the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston had transferred a priest accused of pedophilia from parish to parish.

"There can be and there has to be improvement," said task force chairwoman Maureen Bateman. "Clearly what was in place was not sufficient."

The committee will examine the archdiocese's abuse policies and advise on matters ranging from psychological screening of candidates for the priesthood to helping victims and their families.

Members include eight women and seven men — none of them in the clergy — from the fields of education, medicine, psychology, and law. Several have expertise in child abuse.

Members who held news conference after Saturday's meeting said they would operate autonomously from the archdiocese.

Law was invited to portions of the meeting, which took place at his residence in Brighton, but was not present throughout. Members said some victims also attended.

No deadline was set for the completion of the report.

Law announced the panel Jan. 24, the same day he established a "zero tolerance" policy on sexual abuse.

The announcement came after thousands of documents were released detailing how church leaders continued to support the former Rev. John Geoghan — and transferred him from parish to parish — even after warnings from doctors and allegations of sexual abuse of children.

A judge ordered the public release of the documents, which were being used as evidence in civil lawsuits against Geoghan.

Geoghan, who was sentenced to nine-to-10 years in prison for abusing a 10-year-old boy when he was a priest, has been accused of molesting more than 130 children.

"There needs to be systemic change in the way the church does business and protects children," said committee member Suzin Bartley, executive director of the Children's Trust Fund, a group working to prevent child abuse. "There's pressure to do this, and do it well on behalf of the kids."

Also on the commission is Middlesex Country District Attorney Martha Coakley, whose office is investigating some of the abuse claims.