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Updates on the major figures and issues in "Hand of God."

The Cultrera Family

Paul Cultrera lives in Sacramento, Calif., where he is general manager of the Sacramento Natural Foods Co-op. His sister Maria is a retired teacher in Salem, Mass. Joe Cultrera lives in New York City, where he runs his production company, Zingerplatz Pictures.

On Jan. 7, 2007, their parents Paul and Josephine celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary. They continue to attend Mass with Maria. Aunt Kay, who lived with the family in Salem, passed away on Feb. 17, 2006, at the age of 100.

 

Financial Settlements

[hosts and money]

According to a 2006 archdiocese report, as of June 30, 2005 the sexual abuse crisis had cost the archdiocese $150.8 million, $127.4 million of which was paid out in 895 settlements with victims and their families. The rest of that figure was spent on counseling and prevention, financing costs, and legal and other professional fees.

While the Archdiocese of Boston paid out many smaller settlements to individual victims like Paul Cultrera, the bulk of the payout came in two major agreements. On Sept. 19, 2002, the archdiocese, under Cardinal Bernard Law, agreed to a $10 million settlement with 86 victims of Fr. John Geoghan. The agreement was criticized by victims' groups as being meager compared to other dioceses' settlements and compared to an earlier $30 million agreement the archdiocese had rejected.

A year later, Law's successor, Archbishop Sean O'Malley, who in the 1990s oversaw the settlement of abuse cases in the diocese of Fall River, Mass., brokered an $84.1 million settlement with 541 victims, including victims of Fr. Joseph Birmingham. To finance the settlement, the archdiocese sold the Cardinal's residence and surrounding land in Brighton, Mass., to Boston College for $99 million. The rest of the settlement was paid by insurance and the archdiocese's own financial reserves.

 

Cardinal Bernard Law

[cardinal law]

On Dec. 13, 2002, Cardinal Law flew to Rome to tender his resignation to Pope John Paul II. He was later made chaplain of a convent of nuns in a Maryland suburb of Washington, D.C. He did not travel to Boston for the installation of his successor, Sean O'Malley, but reportedly did travel frequently to Rome to meet with the Pope.

In May 2004, Law was appointed archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, one of five patriarchal basilicas where the Pope often celebrates Mass. According to a September 2006 article in Boston Magazine, the appointment pays Law a stipend of roughly $5,000 per month.

Law, now 75, is still a Cardinal and a member of the College of Cardinals. He attended the conclave that chose Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger to succeed Pope John Paul II. Law also continues to serve on committees that set church policy, including the Congregation of Bishops, a position that gives him enormous influence over the appointment of church leaders, particularly in America.

 

Fr. Anthony Laurano

[Laurano]

In April 2005, Laurano, now 81, was arraigned on two counts of child rape; he is accused of raping an 8-year-old boy twice in one day. The allegations first surfaced in 2002, at which time the archdiocese placed Laurano on administrative leave.

After the arraignment other accusations surfaced. One man brought a civil suit accusing Laurano of molesting him in 1968, when he was 11. Another man, a priest, accused Laurano of raping him when he was a 25-year-old deacon in 1970; he settled with the archdiocese in 2002 but went public with his abuse in 2005.

In April 2006 Laurano was arraigned on four additional counts of indecent assault; he is charged with molesting his 30-year-old mentally disabled neighbor. Victims' advocates were outraged that the church had done nothing to monitor Laurano, who was free awaiting trial. Laurano's trial on the initial charges has been postponed twice; no date has been set for a trial on the latest charges. Laurano has pled not guilty to all the charges.

Update, Feb. 7, 2008: In March 2007, the Vatican defrocked Laurano and another North Shore priest, W. James Nyhan. Nyhan, who had worked as chaplain of Bishop Fenwick High School in Peabody, Mass., was convicted in 2006 of "committing a lewd act on a minor" while ministering in South Carolina from 1979 to 1980. Both Laurano and Nyhan lived at St. Mary's Italian in Salem, although not at the same time. On May 27, 2007, Laurano died at home of natural causes, before he could stand trial on the charges against him.

 

Bishop Richard Lennon

[Bishop Lennon]

Bishop Lennon attempting to stop Joe Cultrera from filming.

Lennon, 59, was appointed apostolic administrator of the archdiocese of Boston on Dec. 13, 2002, after the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law. As apostolic administrator, Lennon identified real estate the archdiocese could mortgage or sell to pay settlements to abuse victims, but no major settlements were reached during his tenure. He resigned from the position in July 2003 to make way for Law's permanent replacement, Archbishop Sean O'Malley.

Lennon continued to work for the archdiocese until he was installed as bishop of the Diocese of Cleveland, Ohio, in May 2006. It was during this interim period that Lennon tried to stop Joe Cultrera and his cameraman from filming exterior shots of the archdiocese's chancery building.

Update, Feb. 15, 2007: Joe Cultrera's encounter with Bishop Lennon sparked controvery in Cleveland, where the local Fox affiliate aired this report, including a written response from Lennon, an interview with filmmaker Joe Cultrera and the full sequence between Cultrera and Lennon.

 

Bishop John McCormack

[Bishop John McCormack]

McCormack, 71, continues to head the diocese of Manchester, N.H., a post he has held since 1998. But the priest abuse scandal dogged McCormack, who had responded to abuse claims as secretary and director of ministerial personnel for the Archdiocese of Boston. In 2002, as McCormack was deposed by victims' lawyers for his role in the Boston scandal, New Hampshire lay groups and even some clergy called for his resignation.

McCormack also had to deal with Manchester's own abuse scandal, much of which preceded his arrival. In December 2002, the Manchester diocese entered into an agreement (PDF file) with the New Hampshire attorney general to avoid criminal indictments on charges of child endangerment.

(Massachusetts passed child endangerment laws in September 2002, but they are not retroactive. And in July 2003, an investigation by the Massachusetts attorney general "did not produce evidence sufficient to charge the Archdiocese or its senior managers with crimes under applicable state law.")

In the agreement the diocese "acknowledge[d] that the State has evidence likely to sustain a conviction" on the charges and agreed to revamp its sexual abuse policy. The diocese also agreed to audits by the state, but the two sides have never come to terms on who would pay for such audits and how they would be conducted.

Some critics feel the audit controversy augers ill for the prospects of the diocese under McCormack policing itself. "The church's leaders -- none more than McCormack -- acceded to the agreement because prison was a possible alternative," wrote the Concord Monitor in a January 2005 editorial. "Now that time has softened that threat, they are returning to the secretive ways of old."

Correction: In 2005 a court ordered the state and the diocese to split the costs of audits, and in March 2006, the state released its first report on the diocese's sexual abuse prevention efforts. The audit found that, while the diocese had made some progress, its prevention program "still lacks adequate levels of overall internal control and oversight mechanisms," and that the reforms have been carried inconsistently from parish and parish. The audit also found that, since 2002, one priest who had been accused of inappropriate behavior around children was returned to parish work after a stay at a psychiatric hospital. That priest was later removed again after allegedly viewing online pornography, but the diocese delayed in reporting the incident to the state.

 

St. Mary's Italian, Salem

[Interior]

Paul Cultrera Sr. in his home church, St. Mary's Italian.

In January 2003, St. Mary's Italian, the Cultreras' home church, was closed by the Archdiocese of Boston. The closing preceded by a year a major "reconfiguration" of Boston parishes; between 2004 and 2006 the archdiocese closed 67 parishes, compared to 357 closures from 1985 to 2003.

In a 2004 statement on the reconfiguration plan, Boston Archbishop Sean O'Malley said, "The decision to close parishes is in no way connected with the need to finance the legal settlement with the victims of clergy sexual abuse. The sale of the Brighton property of the former archbishop's residences and surrounding land has raised the $90 million dollars needed to do so. No money from the future sale of parish assets will be used to pay for the settlement."

The St. Mary's church building was added to a Salem's historic society's "Most Endangered" list in 2003. In 2004, the Salem Mission, a local homeless shelter, bought the church building, rectory, youth center and a nearby apartment building from the archdiocese for $2 million. The Open Door United Church of Christ, which runs the Salem Mission, began using the church building for services, and in 2005 it moved the homeless shelter to the site.

 

Statute of Limitations

[Massachusetts State House]

The Massachusetts Statehouse

When Paul Cultrera settled with the Archdiocese of Boston over his abuse in 1995, he had to do so before the statute of limitations expired. In fact, Massachusetts law contains two statutes of limitations on child sexual abuse: one covering criminal prosecution of the offenders and another pertaining to civil lawsuits.

Under the criminal statute of limitations, prosecutors had the longer of 15 years after the abuse occurred or 15 years after the victim turned 16 to bring charges. In October 2006, then-Lt. Gov. Kerry Healy signed a law extending the limit from 15 years to 27 years. If there is DNA evidence to corroborate the charge, the statute of limitation is the life of the victim.

However, the state Legislature failed to pass a companion bill that would have eliminated the civil statute of limitations. Under the current law, a victim must file suit within the later of three years after the abuse occurred or three year after the victim realized the abuse had had a detrimental effect.

Victims' advocacy groups such as the Coalition to Reform Sex Abuse Laws in Massachusetts continue to push for the abolition of the commonwealth's civil statute of limitations, and also for an exception to Massachusetts' statute of charitable immunity, which caps the damages a court can order a charitable institution like the archdiocese to pay at $20,000. The group also monitors statutes of limitations in other states.

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posted jan. 16, 2007

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