- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 5, 2002

The controversy over Catholic priests and sexual abuse reported widely a decade ago has snowballed, some say, because of power struggles between the church and news media in Boston.
"There has been tension between the archdiocese and the Boston Globe for a long time," Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Catholic bishops, said yesterday. "As the saying goes, 'You don't fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel.'"
Writer Jason Berry, whose investigative reporting in the early 1990s documented a trend of pedophilia cases, yesterday said his work did not ignite the furor seen now. "The press said, 'We've done that story,' and moved on," said Mr. Berry, who applauds the Globe's aggressive reporting on the archdiocese.
"This is not a story the media likes to cover, but now it's in Boston, not in the deep South, where I began all of this," said Mr. Berry, who lives in New Orleans.
Mr. Barry's reporting on the secretive way the church handled the problem forced the U.S. bishops to discuss it publicly and to issue stricter preventive guidelines in 1992.
"I simply thought the bishops would ride it out," which they did, Mr. Berry said.
But in mid-January of this year, when accused priest John J. Geoghan, 66, was put on trial in Boston for absuing a 10-year-old boy, the archdiocese was forced to put 7,000 pages of documents into evidence. They unravel a long, unknown history of moving the accused priest around.
The story took off, Mr. Berry said, when Cardinal Bernard Law refused to resign on Jan. 23. He then gave authorities what turned out to be names of 80 priests accused of sexual absue. The archdiocese has about 800 priests.
"I wish it were possible to go back in time and to undo some of the decisions that I made," Cardinal Law said then. "I now see that these were wrong decisions."
Over the weekend, the Vatican's spokesman gave an unprecedented interview on the problem. Church leaders in Philadelphia, Los Angeles and St. Louis made public dismissals of priests accused in the past, citing a new "no tolerance" policy.
Besides the Boston trial, "The element of hypocrisy always makes a good story," Sister Walsh said of the media snowball. "It built up with Globe stories about, 'Waiting for the documents. Waiting for the documents.' Then the whole national media came."
She called the abuse "a dispicable crime" but said the publicity makes it look as if the priests were recently caught. She said cases go back as far as 40 years, and nearly all the men are sidelined from duty. "These were not 80 men out walking around in parishes," she said.
Mr. Berry said the extent of the problem has proven wider than he was able to document in his 1992 book, "Lead Us Not Into Temptation." He had estimated that 400 priests faced allegations, but a watchdog group in Texas now has collected names of 1,800 suspected cases.
Mr. Berry cited an internal report written for the bishops in 1985 that estimated lawsuits amounting to $1 billion. In recent reports, analysts are speaking of $100 million to $300 million in possible penalties. The church has not disclosed its liabilities.


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