Bishops Escaping Prosecution in Sex Abuse Cases

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Some victims of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church are frustrated because no bishops have been indicted, the Washington Post says. The closest case is in Phoenix, where prosecutors gathered what they believed was sufficient evidence to charge Bishop Thomas J. O’Brien with obstruction of justice. But they declined to prosecute in return for his promise to appoint two independent administrators and a lawyer to handle allegations of child sexual abuse, and to put $600,000 of diocesan money into special accounts for victims.

The two largest and most complex grand jury probes, in Boston and Los Angeles, are continuing. According to public officials familiar with those proceedings, however, the Boston prosecutors have all but ruled out an indictment of the city’s former archbishop, Cardinal Bernard M. Law, who resigned in December. In Los Angeles, prosecutors are still considering whether there is sufficient evidence to indict Cardinal Roger M. Mahony on charges of conspiracy to commit felony child endangerment or conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Prosecutors and legal experts said there are huge legal hurdles to prosecuting a bishop who has not committed sexual abuse himself, but has not prevented abuse by others. “The first problem is proving criminal intent,” said Robert M. Bloom, a professor at Boston College Law School. Even when prosecutors can show “all kinds of inaction” by bishops in the face of sexual misconduct by priests, it is not easy to prove that “they conspired with these bad priests to allow this to continue,” he said.


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