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Massachusetts Liberal

Observations on politics, the media and life in Massachusetts and beyond from the left side of the road.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Judgment call

Just as the question about the size of Martha Coakley's lead for US Senate seat comes into focus, the Globe now offers a story that will truly test the breadth and depth of that support.

The Globe reports that in 1995 Coakley, then head of the Middlesex District Attorney's child abuse unit, opted for a probation deal over prosecution of "Father Jack" Geoghan, one of a handful of pedophile priests who received a virtual free ride from the Archdiocese of Boston.

Coakley made a legal judgment she did not have enough evidence to convict Geoghan on anything more substantial than a misdemeanor. She arranged a deal that led to no formal charges and no criminal record.

And no change in Geoghan's behavior -- or that of the archdiocese, then headed by Cardinal Bernard Law.

Coakley, who has been shy about discussing anything on the campaign trail, was quite straightforward with the Globe:
“He put these kids at risk,’’ Coakley said. “He put other kids at risk. But it doesn’t change whether I had enough to charge him with a crime.’’
But does it change the obligation to make the case public, alert parents to the potential threat to their children and, perhaps, pull the rug out from the enablers who simply shifted pedophiles from parish to parish?

Coakley's tactics can be viewed by some as unwarranted deference to the archdiocese -- waiting for cold, hard facts and a criminal conviction before taking on the church.

And as such, the timing of this revelation could not come at a worse time for comparison -- the stand-off between Rhode Island congressman Patrick Kennedy, son of the man whose seat Coakley seeks to fill, and the Archbishop of Providence who is trying to read Kennedy out of the church because of his stand on abortion rights.

And who is upset that Kennedy chose to take their dispute public.

Coakley may well have made the best legal judgment she had at the time. But was it the right moral one, allowing a pedophile to remain in contact with children? Would have publicly blowing the whistle, even if it resulted in only a slap on the wrist, made a difference to even one child?

Victims of priestly pedophiles think it would have:
"Charging Geoghan with something and exposing him publicly might well have brought forward victims, witnesses, whistle-blowers, and evidence that could have resulted in a conviction and a tougher sentence,’’ said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
And while the context is different, Kennedy clearly thought blowing the whistle on the Archbishop of Providence's bullying intrusion into politics was the right call, something is father would probably have done.

Massachusetts voters will have to make up their own minds in two weeks. And I suspect there will be some ripples in the mile-wide, inch-deep Coakley margin. Especially among voters who are looking for someone to carry on in the tradition of Ted Kennedy.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Had she brought the suit back then- and lost -perhaps the real clear cases would have been dismissed out of hand as more of the same. One wonders how long the Globe sat on this story before they dropped the bomb 15 days before voters go to the polls- That's the real story here.

November 23, 2009 9:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AG Coakley's primary focus was getting "Father Jack" away from children, which is what she did. She got a stay-away order so that he was prevented from coming in contact with kids and got the Archdiocese to remove him from the priesthood so that he could no longer have contact with children through the church. These were disturbing allegations, but Martha charged him with the most she could under the law. If she could have charged him with more, she absolutely would have.

November 23, 2009 1:26 PM  
Anonymous Dr Doc dlcs said...

kennedy is NOT above the LAW or God Dr Doc dlcs

November 23, 2009 8:11 PM  

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