Bernard Cardinal Law and Edward Cardinal Egan should be arrested

Much has already been said about the moral responsibility of these two prelates to resign from their respective sees. Most of the calls have, of course, been directed at Cardinal Law, with even Boston Catholic politicians now speaking about “failed leaders.”

Whatever, I’ve been “lapsed” for 16 years, so I don’t have any personal stake in whether they retain moral authority or not.

What I’d like to see are criminal charges.

Take Egan, for instance. (obligitory IANAL disclaimer here) Under Connecticut law, sex with a child under 16 is statutory rape, and preventing prosecution of a crime is obstruction of justice. According to reports, Egan knew of a priest’s affair with a 15-year-old church worker, who later delivered the priest’s child. This occurred while Egan was Bishop of the Bridgeport CT diocese. Not only did Egan not report the matter to authorities, but he also assisted the priest in leaving the church and starting a new life as an elementary school teacher(!) OK, there is not enough evidence to convict here, but there’s certainly enough to merit a criminal investigation.

Even more to the point is Cardinal Law. Massachusetts law states:

Is there any doubt at this point that section this doesn’t apply to Law? The John Geoghan case was bad enough. Now there’s documentary evidence that he assisted a sexual predator by moving him from place to place to cover up the crimes Law knew were taking place.

It’s time for the criminal justice system to rout out the structure that allowed abusers to flourish within the Church’s protection. Arrest Law & Egan.

Well, there are going to be a few problems with prosecution here. (Disclaimer: raised Catholic, now atheist)

  1. The statute of limitations is likely going to be a bar to most of the cases. The statutory rape case, for example, occurred in 1989 according to the link. Dunno what the Massachusetts SOL if for obstruction or accessory, but it is likely already run in most cases;

  2. I think you misapprehend the accessory statute. If Cardinal Law was guilty of “harboring, concealing, maintaining or assisting” the felon, then so were the parents in these cases. In point of fact, neither are. The accessory language refers to taking steps to prevent the police from getting their hands on the felon. It does not impose on citizens an affirmative obligation to report a crime.

  3. So long as the child molesters remained within the jurisdiction of the state of Massachusetts, Law’s policy of moving them from parish to parish did not prevent prosecution of them.

I wish there was a way to impose criminal liability on them. But I don’t see it yet.


Sua, I will defer to your greater knowledge of the law, but I still don’t see that the statue doesn’t apply. The parents of the abuse survivors, for instance, did not take active steps to prevent information about the abuse cases from coming to light. Law evidently did. I think this has gone beyond merely not reporting suspicions. The intent clause of the statue seems applicable to Law’s actions.

Could some of those involved be charged with obstuction of justice or something for covering up known crimes?

Obstruction of justice applies to steps which hinder a police investigation. It does not impose on citizens an obligation to report crimes to the police.

Gee, that sounds familiar. Perhaps it’s because it’s what Sua said in his point #2, above. Paperbackwriter, I understand your ire, but as a matter of law, Cardinal Law’s actions do not constitute obstruction of justice. There has to be an ongoing official investigation of some sort to obstruct.

And, as also cogently observed by Sua, the statute of limitations would likely serve as a bar to prosecution.

  • Rick

Bricker, what’s your take on my analysis of the accessory after the fact statute? I interpret it to mean that it is a crime to take active steps to prevent the apprehension of a felon - hiding them, getting them across state lines, etc. You agree?

Sorry, I don’t see this anywhere. Even moving the priests to other parishes was not an active step to prevent information from coming to light. Your definition of “active steps” is overbroad.

From a legal point of view, both the parents and the cardinal are in the same position - they have knowledge of a felony and don’t come forward. (To be sure, they are in very different moral situations). Whether or not the cardinal moves the priest to another parish doesn’t affect that in any way. Nothing about moving the priest suppresses the information. It gives further incentive to the parents not to come forward - the priest isn’t going to be near their child again, but that’s not the same as suppressing information.
In any event, barring additional criminal activity - bribery, extortion, etc. - even taking active steps to present the dessemination of information about criminal activity, so long as there is not an active police investigation, is not a crime.


It may not fit the definition of “obstruction of justice” but failure to report a felony you know has been committed is itself a crime in some jurisdictions, called “misprision of felony.” Isn’t it? I don’t know whether Massachusetts has such a law, and if so, whether the statute of limitations has passed.

Bibliophage, I just ran a quick check of the Mass. General law, and “misprision” only appears in a statute criminalizing misprision of treason.

There is a statute criminalizing concealment of compoundment of a felony, , but a requirement of that statute is that the party concealing the felony “takes money, or a gratuity or reward, or an engagement therefor.” IOW, one can conceal a felony all he/she wants (again assuming no active police investigation), so long as he/she does it for free.


Sua, Bricker, what you say is that any steps taken now would be a crime, but the original cover-up is beyond prosecution? Unless the prosecutor can make a stick for conspiracy, they’re both off the hook as far as the criminal statues. There’s absolutely no evidence that would support conspiracy charges, even to my admittedly jaundiced eyes.

As you’ve both discerned, I am letting my desire for retribution override my logic. Perhaps part of what provokes me is that many, many persons are sitting in jails today on federal drug conspiracy charges, with less knowledge of the principal crimes than Law and other bishops had of the abuse in their dioceses. I know, whole 'nuther GD, and not part of the present issue. Still, aargh :frowning:

Then your thread belongs in the Pit, not here.

Actually, Bricker on reflection, I don’t need your thoughts on my analysis of the accessory statute. The existence of the concealment of compoundment of a felony statute answers the question.

If we look at the Massachusetts penal code as a coherent whole (my favorite legal maxim of wishful thinking), the existence of the concealment statute means that the accessory after the fact statute does not apply to efforts to conceal a crime. Otherwise, the statutes would be duplicative and lead to inconsistent results.


Well, there you go. Happy to be of un-help :slight_smile:

FWIW, I generally agreed that the language

refers to aid in direct furtherance of escaping detention, arrest, trial, or punishment. Had the Bishop reassigned his priest to, say, Namibia, with the intent of frustrating police inquiries… sure, that’s probably covered. But nothing he did made it any more difficult for the police to find and talk to the priest, should they choose to do so.

But I’m disappointed in you for another reason, Sua. Despite the fact that you claim it as your favorite legal maxim, not once do the words in pari materia cross your keyboard. Ah, the death of New Latin.

  • Rick

I have good reason. That phrase has been the bane of my existence in a case I’ve been working on for the past two years. I have nightmares about it (and will probably have one tonight. Thanks, man. :mad: )