New Orleans Archbishop Alfred Hughes will answer prosecutors’ every question without resorting to the Fifth Amendment when a Boston grand jury interrogates him next week about his work as chief of staff in an archdiocese that for decades protected sexually abusive priests from police.
“Archbishop Hughes intends to answer all questions put to him completely, to the best of his knowledge,” the Rev. William Maestri said Friday.
“He wants to cooperate as a good citizen in this civic experience.”
Hughes is to testify Wednesday before a grand jury convened by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly investigating whether it can indict members of the Boston Catholic hierarchy for reassigning priests to new parishes after complaints of child abuse.
Hughes is one of five bishops who have been recalled to Boston to testify about their work as associates of Cardinal Bernard Law. Law, emerging from a monthlong retreat in Pennsylvania after his resignation last month, will testify on Tuesday, Maestri said.
Hughes has been preparing for the grand jury appearance by reviewing records shipped down from Boston relating to issues he handled as Law’s vicar for administration from 1990 to 1993, Maestri said.
He stressed that Hughes intends to be open, not only with prosecutors, but with the public after his appearance.
“Archbishop Hughes wants to be sure people know he is committed to do what is right,” Maestri said. “There is no attempt to duck in the side (door). There is no attempt to evade.”
‘Shocking and appalling’
The state grand jury was impaneled last spring by prosecutors who said they were infuriated by disclosures that the Catholic hierarchy in Boston often transferred sexually abusive priests to new parishes while quietly settling lawsuits with their victims.
Reilly, the Catholic son of Irish immigrants, said last spring the extent of sexual abuse by Boston priests was “shocking and appalling.”
After months of assembling church records on the handling of those priests, Reilly last month was sharply critical of the Boston hierarchy.
“There was a coverup, an elaborate scheme to keep it away from law enforcement, to keep it quiet,” he said at a December news conference. “The church and the leadership of the church felt it was more important to protect the church than any children, and, as a result of that, needless numbers, countless numbers, of children were harmed.”
Yet Reilly and other legal experts in Boston have said it will be all but impossible under Massachusetts law to indict any bishops for putting priests known to be abusive in a position to harm children.
Although it has one now, during the years of the scandal Massachusetts had no law requiring clergy to report suspected child abuse. Louisiana likewise does not make clergy mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse.
Tough case to prove
Moreover, to establish criminal liability under Massachusetts law, prosecutors would have to prove that supervising bishops intended for children to be abused, several experts said.
“Did they act improperly? You bet. Negligently? You bet,” said Robert Bloom, a professor of criminal procedure at Boston College law school. “But negligence is appropriate only in homicide, not in rape.”
“If we set out today to lay out a code of conduct, would we include this kind of behavior as prosecutable? Absolutely,” said Wendy Murphy, a former Boston prosecutor who now represents sexual-abuse victims, although none in the Boston church scandals.
“But the fact is that, in most states, we don’t have a statute that prohibits what can be called a reckless enabling of child rape.
“There’s a reason for all that collective head-scratching at office water coolers, because it just doesn’t seem rational that we don’t have laws like this,” she said. “But we don’t.”
Hughes is being represented by two attorneys, Richard Bordelon of the New Orleans archdiocese’s law firm of Denechaud & Denechaud, and in Boston by Alan Rose, a former federal prosecutor listed in “The Best Lawyers in America,” a private reference work based on surveys within the profession.
Rose is not a member of the Rogers Law Firm that represents the Boston archdiocese.
Hughes’ legal bills are being paid by the Boston archdiocese, Maestri said.
Besides Law and Hughes, the grand jury also issued subpoenas for at least four other Boston church officials who have since become bishops: Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis.; Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn; John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., and William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, Long Island.
Maestri said he believed Banks, Murphy and McCormack had already testified; he said he did not know whether Hughes asked them about the grand jury’s questions.
The grand jury presumably will focus on Hughes’ work from 1990 to 1993, when he served as vicar for administration, or Law’s chief of staff, in the administration of an archdiocese four times larger than New Orleans.
In a daylong civil deposition at the Windsor Court Hotel on May 24, 2001, Hughes described his Boston role as a liaison between Law and the archdiocese’s cabinet secretaries, or department heads, with whom he met regularly.
Among them was McCormack, Law’s secretary for ministerial personnel, whose name has come up time after time in unsealed church records as the point man in handling abusive priests in Boston.
Asked by William H. Gordon, an attorney representing victims of John Geoghan, a former priest now in prison for child molestation, whether Hughes ever talked to Law about Geoghan, Hughes answered:
“I don’t remember doing so, and the reason would be that Father McCormack normally talked directly to the cardinal about these situations.”
Nonetheless, Hughes did occasionally have some direct role in handling sexually abusive priests.
Dealing with priests
The clearest example already reported from court records occurred in 1991, when Hughes called Geoghan into his office after fielding a complaint that Geoghan might have been acting inappropriately at a youth club in suburban Boston.
Although Geoghan was a diagnosed pedophile who by then had already been institutionalized three times, Hughes told the jury at Geoghan’s criminal trial that he merely checked up on whether Geoghan was keeping up on his therapy and spiritual life, and ordered him not to go to the club again.
Another two years passed before Geoghan was removed from ministry, having molested about 130 children over three decades.
In another case, before he became vicar for administration, Hughes in 1982 recommended that the Rev. Robert Burns, an Ohio priest then coming out of treatment for inappropriate behavior with a child, be given limited duty in Boston in a convent or as a chaplain. Burns later wound up in a parish, where he molested at least 14 more children, some as young as 7.
Hughes has said he did not know until much later that his recommendation was not followed.
In other cases in which Hughes has had a role in handling abusive priests:
In 1992, Hughes received a complaint about inappropriate behavior by the Rev. Richard Matte, according to the Boston Globe. Hughes’ response apparently started an investigation that removed Matte from ministry.
In 1992 and 1993, archdiocesan staff told Hughes that the Rev. Bernard Lane had a history of “lewd conduct.” In a 1993 memo, McCormack discounted it and recommended that Lane’s case not be sent to an archdiocesan review board, the Globe reported. “Why do you not recommend going before the board?” Hughes answered in a handwritten note. Lane was removed that year for acts of abuse going back to the 1970s.
In 1992, according to the Globe, the Rev. John Picardi admitted to Hughes that he had orally raped a 27-year-old man in a Florida hotel room. Picardi was allowed to return to ministry, but was removed earlier this month under the weight of more allegations. It is not clear what, if anything, Hughes recommended in that case.
In 1993 Hughes discovered that the Rev. James Foley had years earlier fathered two children by a woman he later abandoned as she overdosed fatally on drugs. Law kept Foley in ministry as a parish priest until December. It is not clear whether Hughes offered a recommendation in Foley’s case.
Hughes left Boston in the fall of 1993 to become bishop of Baton Rouge, then became coadjutor archbishop of New Orleans in the summer of 2001. He succeeded Archbishop Francis B. Schulte Jan. 3, 2002, three days before the Globe began its series of stories that exposed the sexual-abuse scandal in Boston.
The scandal and particularly the unprecedented resort to a criminal grand jury to investigate the actions of Catholic bishops “is something of great sadness to us; something we have to learn from,” Maestri said Friday, “to make sure that in the future to the best of our ability, this does not happen (again).”
He pointed out that Hughes and other American bishops recognize that they failed the church and society in the ways they handled abusive priests.
Hughes “has indicated he has asked forgiveness from those victims who may have in any way been hurt by decisions he made,” Maestri said.