Catholic Church Still Hiding Sexual Predators?

Ten years ago, Michael Rezendes and The Boston Globe colleagues broke a clergy sex abuse cover-up in the Boston Archdiocese. Host Michel Martin speaks with Rezendes about his investigative work. (Advisory: This segment may not be suitable for all audiences.)

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now, we want to call on Michael Rezendes. He is one of the investigative reporters, and the lead writer, on that Boston Globe story that revealed a serious problem with the abuse of children by a number of priests in the Boston Archdiocese. In the months and years that followed, literally hundreds of similar cases were revealed across the country. We want to take a look back at that watershed moment, and we do want to say again that, owing to the subject matter, this may not be an appropriate conversation for everyone.

With that being said, Michael Rezendes, thank you so much for speaking with us.

MICHAEL REZENDES: Oh, it's a pleasure to be here.

MARTIN: Now, you made the point to us earlier that the important thing about your reporting, and the reporting of your team, was not that you discovered clergy sex abuse, but that you discovered the cover-up. Would you talk a little bit more about that?

REZENDES: Well, yes. I tell people all the time that we did not discover the clergy sex abuse scandal. By the time we came along in 2002, there had been many clergy sex abuse scandals all over the country - one of them, right next to Boston in the city of Fall River, where a priest by the name of James Porter molested more than a hundred children. We wrote about that extensively, back in the early 1990s.

But what we accomplished in 2002 was to prove that high officials in the Archdiocese of Boston, including Cardinal Law, actually knew for decades that priests were molesting children and nevertheless, transferred those priests from parish to parish, which enabled them to continue molesting still more children.

It's the old adage that the cover-up is worse than the crime, and that was the case with this story.

MARTIN: Why do you think it is that your reporting, and the reporting of your team, opened the floodgates - given, as you said, that there had been stories earlier about some really, really terrible behavior directed at children? What is it, you think, changed with your reporting?

REZENDES: Well, our reporting was different because we obtained documents written by church officials - for instance, documents written by Cardinal Law - which proved that they knew there was a serious problem, and they were covering it up.

Before that, the reporting all over the country was restricted to reporting on the claims of victims, and describing the abuses that had occurred. But for the first time, we were able to get the church's internal documents - which were under a court seal, by the way. We were able to get those documents, which were written and signed by the church officials themselves. And that's what was different about our reporting.

MARTIN: I think it's important to point out that in response to this - that the archdiocese itself has marked the 10-year anniversary. The - Cardinal Sean O'Malley released five pages of reflections on the crisis. It's too detailed to give all of his comments here, but one of the points that he makes here is that there's been tremendous progress; that there have been, you know - 800 claims of abuse have been settled; that, you know, hundreds of thousands of children have been trained, and offered sort of a curriculum on how to identify and protect themselves from this kind of abuse.

And he really says - he kind of says, in effect, that while we thank the media for bringing this to light, this really is something in the past that needs to be put into that context. How do you respond to that?

REZENDES: Well, I think that I would say that Cardinal O'Malley is right in that the church has done a great deal to prevent future sexual abuse by priests. Priests and laypeople who work with the church are being trained to prevent abuse, to recognize the signs of abuse. Really, quite a lot has been done, at least in the Boston Archdiocese. It's not true of all dioceses in America, but in the Boston Archdiocese, I think a lot has been done to prevent future abuse.

I think what a lot of the victims would say is that the archdiocese has still not really looked very deeply into the causes of the abuse, and has really stopped trying to measure how broad the problem was.

In the immediate aftermath of the crisis, the archdiocese made an attempt to determine the percentage of priests that had abused children. And at the time - this goes back to 2004 - they determined that about 7 percent of the priests who had been serving since 1950 had abused children.

Since that time, allegations have been leveled against scores of additional priests, but the church has stopped trying to figure out exactly what percentage of priests offended. So I think some of the victims would feel that the process has not been completely transparent.

MARTIN: And your reporting on this continues, I understand.

REZENDES: Yes, it does.

MARTIN: Michael Rezendes is an investigative reporter for the Boston Globe. He was the lead writer on the story that exposed a pattern - a very disturbing pattern - of clergy sexual abuse in the Boston Archdiocese, and the behavior of officials who knew about it and did not stop it.

And he joined us from the studios at the Boston Globe. Michael Rezendes, thank you so much for speaking with us.

REZENDES: My pleasure.

MARTIN: Earlier, we heard the personal story of a survivor of clergy sex abuse. He later went on to become a priest himself. Father Bob Hoatson. He's no longer a priest. To hear both interviews, just go to NPR.org/TellMeMore.

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