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Helen Drinan on Cardinal Sean O'Malley

Simmons University President Calls For Catholic Church Investigation

Sean O'Malley
Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese Cardinal Sean O'Malley
Bill Sikes/AP
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Helen Drinan on Cardinal Sean O'Malley

Helen Drinan, president of Simmons University and long a leader in Catholic circles, is calling for an investigation of Boston's archdiocese and Cardinal Sean O'Malley. She has written an opinion piece in the Boston Globe titled “This Catholic has Lost her Patience with the Church.” Drinan spoke with WGBH’s All Things Considered anchor Barbara Howard about the op-ed. The following transcript has been edited for clarity.

Barbara Howard: Well you're President of Simmons University, but before that, back in 2006, you were head of human resources for Caritas Christi, a Catholic hospital chain. And you write that while you were there you oversaw the investigation of sexual harassment charges that were brought against a doctor there, Dr. Robert Haddad. He was then the CEO of Caritas Christi, and you write in your piece, “I knew unequivocally that Haddad must be terminated.” What made you convinced that he had to go?

Helen Drinan: We had women absolutely, clearly acknowledging that he had kissed them, he had hugged them, he had talked to them at night about very personal things, he had cornered them in rooms. It was very clear that these things had happened.

Howard: So you took your concerns directly to Cardinal O'Malley?

Drinan: Once the investigations were completed, I first took them to the archdiocesan attorney, who took them to the cardinal.

Howard: But you say that then he was kept on.

Drinan: He was. There was a meeting of the board of trustees of the hospital system and they voted to keep him on.

Howard: I understand you were not allowed to be at that meeting, though?

Drinan: I was invited, and then I was uninvited.

Howard: But you sent a note to the board that night?

Drinan: I did. I felt very strongly that if a decision were made without complete information, it would be the wrong decision.

Howard: He was not initially terminated.

Drinan: No.

Howard: But then it hit the [Boston] Globe that he was not terminated.

Drinan: That's correct.

Howard: And four days later he was out.

Drinan: That's correct. A number of women, additional women, came forward identifying the same kinds of behavior in their cases.

Howard: In your opinion piece in the Globe, you point out that Cardinal O'Malley put out a statement following a Pennsylvania grand jury report from back in August that found that hundreds of priests in that state had engaged in abuse. O'Malley said, “The clock is ticking for all of us in church leadership. Catholics have lost patience with us and civil society has lost confidence in us.”

And O'Malley goes on to call for “legal transparency and pastoral accountability.” What do you make of that?

Drinan: I think those are the right things to call for, but I think his acknowledgment that the clock is ticking is a reference to the fact that we've been waiting for such a very long time to see those things actually materialize.

Howard: Let's talk about Theodore McCarrick, he was a Cardinal in Washington D.C. who resigned under a cloud in July after a scandal involving the abuse of seminarians. Now you and some priests have stood up, questioning whether Cardinal O'Malley could have done more. Now O'Malley in turn says that he never personally received a 2015 letter regarding McCarrick’s behavior, and he acknowledged that his secretary did get the letter, but because it was not about children, but about adult seminarians, it didn't get flagged. And that's because O'Malley had been put in charge of a commission for the protection of minors, and the McCarrick allegations were about adult young men. Now you're calling for a full investigation?

Drinan: I am calling for an investigation of the facts surrounding who knew what about Cardinal McCarrick when he was actively engaged as a cardinal and in his immediate years after retirement. He had an incredibly wonderful reputation in the United States, particularly in Washington D.C., and to learn all of this so far afterwards when we know there was evidence of settlements made during his active engagement as a cardinal leaves many, many questions to be answered, not just about one letter.

Howard: Well the attorney general in Pennsylvania's investigation uncovered thousands of cases of abuse, and systemic abuse with protections from bishops in particular. And that has really created a watershed moment for other states to step up.

Drinan: Yes it has. And is there any reason to believe what happened in Pennsylvania isn't happening in potentially every other state in the union?

Howard: In your piece, you're calling for an investigation directly of Cardinal O'Malley. That's pretty explosive.

Drinan: What I say is I think without an investigation, it's very, very difficult for people to believe that everything is OK. And there have been too many times when the church has not laid out the full truth the first time. So people are skeptical, and I think it would take that kind of assurance that we can move on in confidence.

Howard: That's Helen Drinan. She is now president of Boston's Simmons University, and she's written an opinion piece in the Boston Globe titled “This Catholic has Lost her Patience with the Church.” WGBH News asked for a comment from the Archdiocese of Boston. The archdiocese has declined. This is WGBH’s All Things Considered.

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