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August 4, 2003
Vol. 1, No. 83




Tom Fox Daily's legacy tarnished by clergy sex abuse record

By Tom Fox, NCR publisher

Pope John Paul II accepted the resignation of Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn last week. Under church rules, Daily was required to submit his resignation on turning 75 last Sept. 23. The pope frequently allows bishops to stay on past 75, and Daily will be 76 when his successor is installed in October.

Normally this would be a time for celebration. But the dark cloud under which the resignation came and has been accepted has muted the cheers. Daily headed Brooklyn for 13 years and has been severely criticized for failing to protect children from predator priests both in Brooklyn and in Boston where he was a key official in the 1970s and 1980s.

Just last week the National Catholic Reporter called upon Daily, among other former Boston auxiliary bishops, to resign for the way they handled the sex abuse scandals in their dioceses (Read the editorial). The call followed a stinging report by Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly. That report detailed six decades of Boston archdiocesan malfeasance related to priests who molested minors. It offered a blistering critique of former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's 18-year tenure, while placing much of the blame for the catastrophe on deputies who were later promoted to run dioceses of their own. These included Daily.

"The mistreatment of children was so massive and so prolonged that it borders on the unbelievable," says the July 23 report, elaborating that more than 1,000 minors were likely abused by Boston priests over the past six decades.

For more than 50 years, says the report, "there has been an institutional acceptance within the archdiocese of clergy sexual abuse of children." Said Reilly: "For decades cardinals, bishops and others in positions of authority within the archdiocese chose to protect the image and reputation of their institution rather than the safety and well-being of children."

The report stated that as vicar for administration under Cardinal Humberto Medeiros (Boston archbishop 1970-1983), Daily "had a clear preference for keeping priests who sexually abused children in pastoral ministry and generally followed a practice of transferring those priests without supervision or notification to new parishes rather than removing them from pastoral ministry."

Last year Daily, in a deposition, expressed regret in a suit brought by dozens of people who said they were molested by the former Boston priest, Paul Shanley.

In 1983, while serving in Boston as auxiliary bishop and vicar general, Daily led that archdiocese for a brief period after the death of Medeiros and before the installation of Medeiros' successor, Bernard Law. One of his executive decisions was to appoint Shanley as administrator of St. Jean's Parish in Newton.

The decision was made despite Daily's knowledge of complaints to the archdiocese that Shanley publicly endorsed sex between men and boys. A letter written by a disgusted Catholic layperson to Medeiros and made available to Daily said Shanley had said he didn't think sex with minors was harmful, nor was incest or bestiality ("Bishop acknowledges he knew priest advocated sex with boys," NCR, Nov. 8, 2002). Daily maintained in his deposition that he had no knowledge that Shanley had abused anyone when he promoted him.

In Daily's deposition, he often said he could not remember details about his supervision of Shanley, but questions by Roderick MacLeish Jr., attorney for Shanley's victims, did lead Daily to provide some succinct answers:

"You went ahead and appointed [Shanley] despite the fact that you had information before you that suggested Paul Shanley had attended and quite possibly endorsed the views of the NAMBLA [North American Man Boy Love Association]?" MacLeish asked.

"Correct," said Daily.

"And you regret that?"

"I regret that," he said.

Years from now church scholars will still ponder how it could be that so many bishops, Daily among them, repeatedly coddled abusing priests while turning their backs on young victims of priest sex abuse. In their search for answers several questions will not go away: Did these bishops really think that young children are less important to the church than the priests of their dioceses? And if so, what is their image of church? And how did so many of these men come to leadership positions in the church?

Tom Fox is NCR publisher. He can be reached at

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