The Database Grows

By mid-October, however, the most intense of the September 11 coverage was over, and the Spotlight reporters returned to their investigation. They continued to go through the directories and eventually identified more than 100 priests with suspicious “on-the-shelf” designations.

They also came up with other ways to identify suspect priests. For example, they assembled a list of all lawyers, including church lawyers, who had worked on cases involving sexual abuse by priests. Carroll had a contact in the court system who, using the lawyers’ Board of Overseers number, identified all their cases over a 15-year period, more than 1,000 in all, including many in which priests had been defendants. These cases led to more lawyers, which led to more cases.

In some instances, the computer contained no information on specific cases, so the reporters went to the courthouse to get the files and discovered that they had been impounded; after settlements had been reached, judges had granted the church’s request to seal the records—a sign of the deference afforded the church. It was as if these lawsuits had never existed. In response, the Globe asked judges to re-open these files.

Not all of the Spotlight Team’s methods were so complex or time-consuming. It was a poorly kept secret that the church used a mansion in Milton to house “on-the-shelf” priests. The mansion happened to be a mere quarter of a mile from where Robinson lived. Checking residency records at Milton Town Hall, Robinson discovered that around a dozen priests had “very obligingly” listed the mansion as their home. Over time, the team found that much of the information they gathered reinforced—and was reinforced by—information they already had. Perhaps a priest cited by a lawyer was already in the Spotlight’s database because he had listed the Milton mansion as his home. Or the directories showed that a priest had gone on “sick leave” two weeks after the church had received a complaint about his behavior.

Meanwhile, they awaited a ruling on the lawsuit initiated by Baron, and continued to interview victims.