Cardinal Bernard Law

Cardinal Bernard Law

What was the accusation?

On January 6, 2002, the investigative Spotlight Team for The Boston Globe published the first of a series of revelatory articles (totaling more than 600 stories) covering the sexual abuses perpetrated by Catholic clergy in the Greater Boston (Massachusetts) area. The initial story indicated that Cardinal Bernard F. Law (then Archbishop of Boston) and other bishops within his archdiocese had been accused of negligence for “allegedly knowing of abuse and doing nothing to stop it.” A few days after the story broke, Cardinal Law appeared at a press conference to make a public statement and answer reporters’ questions. In his statement, Cardinal Law apologized to the victims of sexual abuse and their families for “the harm done” and for the “tragically incorrect” judgments made in relation to John Geoghan, the priest at the heart of the scandal.

Key Apologia Strategies:

Bolstering, Corrective Action, Defeasibility, Good Intentions



“I wish to address the issue of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. At the outset, I apologize once again to all those who have been sexually abused as minors by priests. Today that apology is made in a special way with heartfelt sorrow to those abused by John Geoghan.

There is no way for me to adequately describe the evil of such acts. All sexual abuse is morally abhorrent. Sexual abuse of minors is particularly abhorrent. Such abuse by clergy adds to the heinous nature of the acts. It affects a victim’s relationship to the Church. A child’s ability to trust is shattered by such abuse, and self-esteem is damaged.

Today the issue of sexual abuse is a matter of open and public discussion. While this is often painful, it has allowed us to address the issue more directly. Only in this way can all of us be more alert to its dangers, protect potential victims, respond more effectively to those who have been the victims of abuse, and learn how to deal more effectively with those responsible for such abuse.

Here in this archdiocese, I promulgated a policy to deal with the sexual abuse of minors by clergy. This went into effect on January 15, 1993. All priest personnel records were reviewed in light of this policy. In those instances in which a charge of abuse had not been processed earlier with the rigor of our present policy, the case was reopened, and the policy was applied.

I am aided in such cases by a priest-delegate and by an interdisciplinary review board that examines each case and makes a recommendation to me. This review board includes the mother of a victim, another parent, a clinical social worker, a clinical psychologist, a psychotherapist, a retired justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, a priest, a civil attorney and, usually, the group includes a canon lawyer.

While the response of the Church understandably focuses on the removal of the threat of future acts of abuse, it is also concerned with providing psychological and spiritual counsel to victims as well as assistance to parishes coping with such incidents. Victims who come forward are offered confidential psychological counseling and spiritual support. It is my desire that the Church be present in whatever way possible to all those who have suffered such abuse.

While our policy has been effective, we continue to refine our procedures. Since our knowledge and experience in dealing with such cases have evolved both within the Church and within society as a whole, I want to be certain that our policy is as effective as it might be. In August last, I directed that our policy be reviewed. This was done previously in 1995. In September, a panel of persons with special expertise began this review process. Except for one priest, this panel consists of lay men and women. The work of this group has nearly been completed. I anticipate that the revised policy will be promulgated and made public within three to four weeks.

I wish that we had had such a policy 50 years ago, or when I first came here as archbishop. Cases were handled then in a manner that would not be acceptable according to our present policy. I know of nothing that has caused me greater pain than the recognition of that fact.

I am announcing today a new archdiocesan policy that will mandate all clergy, employees, and volunteers to report any allegations of abuse against a minor, following the procedures set forth in the statutes of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In particular, this mandated reporting would include any knowledge of abuse learned by a priest outside of the sacrament of penance or through spiritual counseling. In addition, a number of archdiocesan agencies are in the process of developing and implementing a comprehensive child protection program, Keeping Children Safe. These additions to our present policy will underscore our archdiocesan commitment to a zero tolerance policy of abuse of minors by clergy.

The many acts that have been alleged against John Geoghan constitute a heart-rending pattern. These acts have been reported in some detail in recent media stories. The horror of these acts speaks for itself.

However much I regret having assigned him, it is nonetheless important to record and to recall that John Geoghan was never assigned by me to a parish without psychiatric or medical assessments indicating that such assignments were appropriate. It is also important to state that it was I who removed him from parish ministry, that I then placed him on retirement, and that I finally asked the Holy See to dismiss him from priesthood without possibility of appeal, even though he had not requested laicization. This extraordinary act of the Holy See went beyond the usual procedures for the laicization of priests.

That some should criticize my earlier decisions I can easily understand. Before God, however, it was not then, nor is it my intent now, to protect a priest accused of misconduct against minors at the expense of those whom he was ordained to serve.

Judgments were made regarding the assignment of John Geoghan which, in retrospect, were tragically incorrect. These judgments were, however, made in good faith and in reliance upon psychiatric assessments and medical opinions that such assignments were safe and reasonable.

With all my heart, I wish to apologize once again for the harm done to victims of sexual abuse by priests. I do so in my own name, but also in the name of my brother priests. These days are particularly painful for the victims of John Geoghan. My apology to them and their families, and particularly to those who were abused in assignments which I made, comes from a grieving heart. I am indeed profoundly sorry.

The trust that was broken in the lives of those suffering the effects of abuse is a trust which was built upon the selfless lives of thousands of priests who have served faithfully and well in this archdiocese throughout its history. One of the sad consequences of abuse, a consequence which pales”¦in comparison to the harm done to those most innocent of victims, is that they have placed under a cloud of suspicion the faithful priests who serve the mission of the Church with integrity.

I can only hope that victims and their families can take some heart from the fact that not only the Church but society as a whole are both responding more effectively to this overwhelming tragedy.

For the Archdiocese of Boston, I pledge a policy of zero tolerance for such behavior. Any priest known to have sexually abused a minor simply will not function as a priest in any way in this archdiocese.

Please pray for all those who have been victimized as minors by clergy, as well as for their families. Pray that those responsible may come to conversion of heart and self-awareness. Pray for the hundreds of faithful priests of this archdiocese who bear with me the burden of a few.

Before God, we are trying to do the best we can. And in your kindness, pray also for me.”


Key reports from Globe’s Spotlight team on clergy sex abuse. (2016, March 11). The Boston Globe. Retrieved from

‘My apology… comes from a grieving heart.’ (2002, January 10). The Boston Globe. Retrieved from

Rezendes, M. (2002, January 6). Church allowed abuse by priest for years. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from

Robinson, W.V., & Paulson, M. (2002, January 10). A ‘grieving’ Law apologizes for assignment of Geoghan. The Boston Globe. Retrieved from