Attorney General Maura Healey has failed to respond — at least to date — to a call from Catholic advocacy groups that her office investigate the personnel records of all Massachusetts archdioceses in order to ensure that there is no evidence of accused abusive priests being shuttled between or among parishes.
It should be noted that there have not been renewed allegations of priestly abuse in Massachusetts. The Roman Catholic Church, however, is embroiled in a heated, almost global debate about how to respond to such charges which have become almost commonplace.
The political group Catholic Democrats and church accountability organization Voice of the Faithful want an investigation of the Worcester, Springfield and Fall River Dioceses, as well as an update to a 2003 investigation of the Boston Archdiocese.
Leaders of the lay groups say knowing which priests were paid for work in what parishes, and if any additional payments or pensions were given out, can shed light on whether accused priests were relocated after accusations of abuse.
The 2003 investigation on the Boston Archdioceses by then-Attorney General Tom Reilly did delve into payroll and personnel records, but the state's remaining dioceses have not been similarly scrutinized. The Boston Archdiocese report has been public for over a decade and the archdiocese maintains a list of names of priests involved in abuse allegations.
"I think that Attorney General Healey should conduct an investigation of the other three dioceses in Massachusetts," Steve Krueger, president of the Catholic Democrats told WGBH News.
Healey's office declined to comment on the calls for an investigation.
In a Boston Globe op-ed titled "We must change our culture and reform our laws," Healey, a Catholic, wrote that her "position is simple."
"We must listen to and support all victims and survivors. We must expose abusers and bring them to justice. We must change our culture and reform our laws to help those of us in law enforcement achieve those goals. And all of us must do our part to protect children and families from abuse and assault," Healey wrote.
In the op-ed, Healey mentioned the 2003 investigation and focused on aiding sexual abuse survivors who come forward. She also called on church leaders to cooperate with law enforcement and to end the "culture of secrecy and silence that forced survivors to suffer alone."
"If additional survivors come forward, there must be swift and comprehensive investigations and consequences. We can never again allow cultures of silence to mute survivors and prevent abusers from being identified and stopped," Healey wrote in the Oct. 8 Globe piece, published in the aftermath of a Pennsylvania grand jury's damning report on clergy sexual abuse in that state.
Voice of the Faithful spokesman Nick Ingala said investigations of the church's finances, including payments to priests or parishioners, could aide claims of abuse and give churchgoers a better idea of how donations are used.
"If the faithful had known about secret settlements, there may have been an earlier hue and cry gone up over moving pedophile priests around and maybe ameliorated a bit the whole scandal," Ingala said.
Voice of the Faithful has conducted reviews of available online financial data of each diocese in the U.S. and encourages dioceses to post financial statements online so church members can see where donations go.
"This stems from our feeling that secrecy over finances contributed to the clergy sexual abuse scandal," Ingala said.
In her full statement to WGBH News when asked about the advocacy groups' call for payroll investigations, Healey spokesperson Jillian Fennimore wrote:
“It is critical that we ensure greater accountability for all church leaders nationwide in addressing this crisis without delay. In Massachusetts, with strong laws in place to help victims and guard against abuse, we expect everyone who works in a church to be proactive in preventing these crimes in our state as we continue to find ways to improve our existing policies and systems.”
Fennimore added: "Our office plans to reach out to the organization to get more information."
Lay advocates are also pushing local church leaders themselves to take action. Voice of the Faithful is asking U.S. bishops to push back against a recent directive from the Vatican to delay a vote on new guidelines for dealing with sexual abuse to prevent the crimes or coverups.
"Clergy sexual abuse of minors and its coverup is morally reprehensible, and VOTF and others have
repeatedly listed what bishops can do, none of which require Vatican approval and most of which have
been done by at least one bishop," the group wrote in a statement. Voice of the Faithful says Bishops have authority without Vatican consent to publish all the names of accused abusers and open secret church files, report all allegations of abuse to civil authorities and investigate the level of crimes and cover ups in a diocese.
The Boston Archdiocese, Springfield Diocese, Worcester Diocese and Fall River Diocese did not immediately return requests for comment. The Bishops in charge of those dioceses are all currently in Baltimore for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.