John Leo
As late as last July, Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston was still denying that he shuffled any child-molesting priests from one parish to another without bothering to inform parishioners that a proven sexual predator was on the way. "Never was there an effort on my part to shift a problem from one place to the next," the cardinal wrote in his local Catholic newspaper.

Not true. Within a year of arriving as archbishop of Boston in 1984, Law shuffled Father John Geoghan to yet another parish. By this time Geoghan had been abusing children for 22 years, and Cardinal Law and his officials knew all about it. But nobody told Geoghan's new parishioners at St. Julia's. After abusing more children there, he was removed for treatment, then was assigned once again to St. Julia's, where he preyed on and raped more children. Court allegations say he abused 130 or more children before finally being defrocked in 1998.

A lot of information is now on the table because some of Geoghan's victims won legal access to the archdiocese's files on pedophile priests and The Boston Globe convinced the courts to make those records public. Among the revelations is that the archdiocese, to avoid public scandal, paid off victims of at least 70 pedophile priests in the past 10 years.

Presumably other victims and other newspapers around the country will use the same legal tactics to dig out files on dangerous priests. So the whole story is likely to come out soon. Cardinal Law has promised to report sexual complaints about priests to police. Other bishops will come under pressure to do the same, so the whole culture of silence and the private handling of sex-abuse cases may be ready to crumble.

Arguments among Catholics will surely escalate. In general the Catholic left thinks the celibacy rule and the church's patriarchal structure are the culprits. The Catholic right is more protective of celibacy, but thinks the rule has become an attractive shield behind which homosexual pedophiles can enter the church structure and operate freely.

Somewhere in the middle are Catholic psychologists and psychiatrists who think the church does a poor job of screening candidates for the priesthood, and may have set standards much too low when vocations to the priesthood began to plunge in the late '70s. In this view, the church needs a greater effort to weed out sexually immature and psychologically damaged applicants.

John Leo

John Leo is editor of and a former contributing editor at U.S. News and World Report.

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