BOSTON - The chief federal prosecutor in Boston said yesterday that he is weighing whether to bring charges against officials of the Boston Archdiocese for covering up the sexual abuse of children for more than 60 years.
Victims of child-molesting priests had asked U.S. Attorney Michael Sullivan last month to prosecute the church under federal law, after the Massachusetts attorney general concluded that he could not bring state charges.
"We're just at the very preliminary stages," Sullivan said. "Obviously at some point in time we'll let people know if there is any ability to move forward. At this point it's just too premature."
Last month, state Attorney General Thomas Reilly released a report detailing a "massive, inexcusable failure" by officials in the Boston Archdiocese to protect children. The report said that more than 1,000 people were probably abused by 237 priests since 1940.
But Reilly concluded that state laws were too weak in the past for him to bring charges now. After the scandal broke in 2002, state lawmakers strengthened child-protection laws.
Reilly's decision angered victims, who said the church should be held accountable. They called on Sullivan to prosecute the church under federal racketeering laws.
Sullivan declined to comment on the possibility of a racketeering prosecution.
"I think it would be premature and completely speculative for me to even go down a particular path with regard to a potential federal prosecution. We're not even there yet," he said.
William Gately, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said that even if Sullivan ultimately decides not to file charges, what is most important to him is knowing that every option has been pursued.
"It's a moral imperative that we do everything we can to find out if there is a law that has been broken that could lead to a prosecution or an indictment," Gately said.