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No Charges Filed Against Boston Church Leaders

Aired July 23, 2003 - 20:03   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Massachusetts is not bringing criminal charges against Cardinal Bernard Law and other Boston Archdiocese officials accused of tolerating sex abuse by priests. Attorney General Tom Riley says he regrets he can't prosecute the church leaders under laws in existence at the time, but he calls their conduct horrible.

TOM RILEY, MASSACHUSETTS ATTORNEY GENERAL: Six decades of the sexual abuse of children by members of the Catholic clergy. The magnitude of it is simply staggering. The numbers, by the archdiocese' own numbers - own numbers - this comes from their records, 789 victims have come forward and made accusations of sexual abuse by church members or church clergy.

And I have no doubt. Those are their records. I have absolutely no doubt that the number is far greater.


ZAHN: Among the alleged victims is William Oberle. He joins us tonight from Watertown, Massachusetts. And with us here is Reverend Thomas Reese from St. Ignatius Church in New York.

Welcome, gentlemen. Glad to have you both with us this evening.


ZAHN: Mr. Oberle, you heard a little bit of what the attorney general had to say today. There are those members of victims' families - there were a couple protesting outside the attorney general's office today, saying, what, no indictments? What was your reaction to this report?

WILLIAM OBERLE, ALLEGED VICTIM OF SEXUAL ABUSE BY CATHOLIC PRIEST: I knew, probably several months ago, that it wasn't going to amount to anything. I was hoping for, you know, justice.

The chance of criminal prosecution of these priests was a long shot, based on current statute in this state. Hopefully, we could look at some federal indictments maybe in the future. But it is - I have to give him credit. He did what he could, but I think more needs to be looked at on a federal level.

ZAHN: Are you suggesting that the attorney general caved in in any way?

OBERLE: I think there's been pressure. I mean, we can't say there hasn't, but I think that, you know, he did his best for the time. The state statues were limited. Massachusetts doesn't have a very good record of child protection laws. Obviously, that was a factor.

And I know the federal RICO could be looked at and prosecuted probably very well under the circumstances of the church's scandal.

ZAHN: Father Reese, let's bring you into this discussion. Are you outraged that nothing will be done to address the grievances and the pain of people like Mr. Oberle this evening?

REESE: Well, I think their grievances and their pain have to be addressed, and they have to be addressed by the church. I mean, the church has to get down on their knees and apologize to the victims who have been abused by priests.

This is a terrible tragedy for these people. It should never have happened. One victim is one too many. You know, over 700 victims is outrageous.

The church has begun a program of getting its act together. It started at Dallas, where they made decisions that any accusations against the priests are going to be reported to the police. They made it...

ZAHN: But that is today.

REESE: That's correct.

ZAHN: Do you think that the attorney general could have found any loophole in this law that would have allowed him to go back and prosecute some of these very old cases?

REESE: I'm not a lawyer, so I have to rely on his - what he says and also what your first guest said. I mean, in Massachusetts, it seemed that there was no opportunity, no chance to do this.

ZAHN: The laws, yes, were very weak.

REESE: It's the way the law is written.

ZAHN: Mr. Oberle...

REESE: But if a bishop does it now, he will be prosecuted. That's clear. If he does it today, he will be prosecuted.

ZAHN: Mr. Oberle, there was something that the attorney general said that people were pretty disturbed by today, when he was trying to figure out if there had been any drop-off until abuse over the last year or two. And he said he really couldn't come to that conclusion. Do you believe that the kind of abuse you suffered continues today?

OBERLE: I don't - I'd hesitate to say yes. But God only knows. There's a lot of closets, and the very nature of this sociopathic behavior, anything's possible. God, it's - you know, it's a terrible thing. It's a thing of nightmares, and you know, you think of the numbers of children suffering with this every day and night, their poor parents and grandparents, their loved ones.

You know, it's - the scope and magnitude is somewhat scary at times for myself, so, you know, anything's possible, Paula, unfortunately.

ZAHN: And finally tonight, just a thought about how you had to live with this secret for so many years.

OBERLE: It was a living hell. It was try to - I look back on my poor mother at Christmas time and trying to wonder why or what it was her sons were going through. And we never had the heart to tell her, and she went to her grave not knowing what happened because we just couldn't destroy her anymore.

She was the compassionate one. She was just a loving, caring person. There was nothing we couldn't say to her, even this, but we just - it was a silent - it was a nonevent. It didn't happen, as far as my brothers and I were concerned. And we sure as hell weren't going to break Mom's heart. It had been broken too many times before.

ZAHN: The story that William tells has such great resonance with others out there. And you say it is your hope that the leaders of the church will get on their knees and ask for forgiveness from all these hundreds and hundreds of people who are allowed to be systematically abused. Do you really have confidence that anything's going to change?

REESE: I think things have changed. I think a year ago at Dallas, the head of the bishop's conference, Bishop Gregory, did apologize on national television in front of the whole world for what had happened. But we have to do it again and again and again, and each bishop has to do it in his diocese.

I think that now we have some policies that are getting in place. We have auditors going out visiting every diocese in the country to see if they are implementing the new regulations that the bishops established back in - a year ago. And that report will be made public in December. And we'll know which dioceses are with the program and which ones aren't.

So I think we're moving forward. I think that we have to be very sensitive to this issue. I think all of American society - this is an epidemic in American society, not just in the church.

If there's one good thing that comes out of it is that there is going to be a greater awareness of the large amount of abuse that's going on. And hopefully, some day, the church can be part of the solution rather than part problem.

ZAHN: Well, we always appreciate your insights. And Mr. Oberle, we know it's tough for you to share your story in such a public way, and we hope you continue to heal because I know this has been a long couple of decades for you, as you've lived with this very dark secret. Good luck to you, sir.


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