(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Early in 2002, The Boston Globe broke the shocking story of a local pedophile, a former Catholic priest whose extensive abuse of children had been swept delicately under the plush carpets of the Boston diocesan offices and local parishes for many years. Further investigation revealed that the Geoghan case was not an isolated phenomenon but only an extreme instance of a much deeper problem involving scores of other Catholic clergy. Flowing from the newspaper series that exposed the “festering sore on the body of the entire church,” this book provides an account of the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church as well as a detailed exposition of many of the specific cases in the Boston archdiocese. The book stands out as the painfully true and sordid story of men of the cloth—promised to celibacy and to the service of the Catholic community—and their superiors who stand convicted of crimes repugnant even to those who do not profess a belief in God or in the importance of a life of service.

The poster boy of the scandals in Boston is former Father John J. Geoghan, a cleric with promise, strong backing from his bishop and a priest-uncle, and a heavily guarded, ugly secret. The Boston Globe reporters reveal a litany of evidence and testimony that details Geoghan’s extensive abuse of children in the Boston parishes, where the priest had served for over thirty years, a story that eroded Catholic belief and trust in the Church’s integrity.

With little to go on initially, the investigative team of The Boston Globe set about to search for answers. The story that they wished to write would not be easily revealed, however. It was necessary to unseal the more than ten thousand pages of documents that the diocese had concealed. After a judge allowed access to these records, the work began. Digging by reporters into Geoghan’s past not only unearthed Geoghan’s activities but also revealed that he was one of many more molesters who had victimized scores of children. Furthermore, the investigation found that the Church had created an effective internal protection system that shielded the accused priests from criminal liability, preserved their positions as active church functionaries, and muffled the voices of victims and their families with discreet financial settlements. After winning the legal challenge to the confidentiality agreements that the archdiocese had extracted from families who had complained and received settlements, the reporters were able to obtain the documents essential to the understanding of the extent of the abuse and cover-up. Many of the documents they discovered are reproduced in the book in a lengthy and revealing appendix. Reading these papers, mainly letters, reinforces the sense of sadness and of horror that pervades the entire book. It buttresses the belief that ecclesial power resides exclusively in the hands of the clerical structure and reveals the degree to which power corrupts even those with a religious calling.

What the investigative team discovered in their search was a series of accusations from both victims and other concerned individuals, a series of priests moved quietly from parish to parish without reservation or censure, and a pervasive climate of willful denial. For some molesting priests, the transfers actually offered upward mobility, positive career moves to more prestigious parishes. For many victims and their families, the archdiocese’s handling of their accusations blunted their desire for public justice but not the painful memories of what had been done to them, sometimes many years before.

The book is not simply a compilation of the series of articles that appeared in the newspaper. It is rather a separate project, enriched with considerable detail and background material. Its chapters provide the reader with an in-depth look at the former priest whose activity sparked the investigation, John Geoghan; the long-term cover-up; the unbelievable extent of abuse in the Boston archdiocese; and an account of the poignant stories of the victims. One chapter details the career of Cardinal Bernard Law, who rose “from the buckle of the Bible Belt to preside over the Church’s crown jewels.” The son of a military father, he learned well the lessons of discipline, adaptation to frequent moves, and singular loyalty to one’s “corps.” These lessons were applied in his...

(The entire section is 1786 words.)