Grand Jury Weighs Case Against Law

A grand jury is looking into whether there is enough evidence to bring criminal charges against Cardinal Bernard Law and other church leaders in the sex scandal that has engulfed the Boston Archdiocese, a law enforcement source said Wednesday.

The grand jury, convened by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly, has been investigating for weeks whether the cardinal and other leaders broke the law by quietly shuffling priests accused of molesting children from parish to parish, where they still had contact with youngsters.

A law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity confirmed the grand jury investigation is under way.

"We respect the right of the attorney general to pursue the investigation with any means that are appropriate," said Donna M. Morrissey, a spokeswoman for the Boston Archdiocese.

However, legal experts said the investigation will probably not lead to charges against leaders of the archdiocese.

Reilly himself said that state laws on conspiracy, obstruction of justice and being an accessory to a crime would make it difficult to prosecute someone for putting another person in a position to commit a crime. Also, Massachusetts has no law requiring the reporting of a crime.

In addition, the statute of limitations on some offenses has run out, Reilly said.

The scandal in the nation's Roman Catholic Church began earlier this year in Boston when it was disclosed that the archdiocese had moved priests from parish to parish despite allegations they had molested youngsters.

Nationwide, at least 250 priests have either been dismissed from their duties or resigned since the scandal erupted.

By law, Reilly cannot confirm whether a grand jury investigation is under way. But Reilly told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his office is using "every investigative tool available to us, including interviews and demand for documents and records."

"We have an obligation to look into this," Reilly said. In April, Reilly said that he had not ruled out bringing charges against Law.

Essex County District Attorney Kevin Burke said that in order to bring an accessory charge, authorities would have to show the person charged had a specific intent and a close connection to the crime or the criminal.

"You really have to find some kind of smoking gun in the form of an admission that an action was taken relatively soon after an event, where you could obscure information, hide evidence, allow someone to leave the jurisdiction knowing an investigation is being conducted," Burke said.

A conspiracy charge would be even more difficult to bring because authorities would have to show that a church supervisor had specific knowledge or planning of the crime, Burke said.

One former Boston-area priest, John Geoghan, has been accused in lawsuits of molesting scores of youngsters. He was convicted in January of groping a boy and sentenced to up to 10 years in prison. Law admitted knowing about allegations against Geoghan in 1984, his first year as cardinal.

Church documents show that archdiocese officials also knew as early as 1967 about abuse allegations involving now-retired priest Paul Shanley, who is charged with raping a boy in the 1980s.

Law has been questioned under oath in both cases in lawsuits brought against the archdiocese.

Last weekend, the nation's Catholic bishops adopted a policy that would remove all child-molesting priests from church work but necessarily the priesthood.

Two-thirds of Catholics in a Washington Post poll released Wednesday said the new guidelines do not go far enough in protecting children. Three-fourths of the general public felt that way.