Feb. 1, BOSTON (USA TODAY)-- The Boston archdiocese's unprecedented decision to give authorities the names of priests accused of sexual abuse during the past 40 years is raising larger questions about the responsibility Roman Catholic Church officials had to disclose the information earlier.

Cardinal Bernard Law released information Wednesday about allegations against priests going back to the 1960s. District attorneys in six eastern Massachusetts counties and several police departments received packets of information from the archdiocese's law firm listing names of priests accused of sex abuse in their jurisdictions.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna Morrissey declined to say how many priests were named. None of the individuals being reported is in active service in the archdiocese, she said. Interviews with the prosecutors' offices suggest the number of accused priests is about 40.

The decision was reached as The Boston Globe reported that the archdiocese quietly settled child molestation claims against at least 45 priests during the past 10 years. None of those cases came to trial, nor was there ever an official admission of guilt. The Boston archdiocese has about 650 active diocesan priests. An additional 800 priests from religious orders are stationed within the archdiocese.

"It's way past time for the secrecy to end," said Matthew Garabedian, who represents alleged victims of defrocked priest John Geoghan. "Secrecy helps the pedophile to commit more tortuous acts. Secrecy does not help the victim."

Geoghan, convicted this month of indecent assault on a 10-year-old boy, faces two more criminal trials and 84 civil lawsuits.

David Procopio, a spokesman for the Suffolk County district attorney, said the office received a list of nine former priests accused of abuse from 1961 to 1993. ''The information includes a rough description of the victims and their ages,'' he said. ''The next step will be to see if the names of the victims will be provided to us.''

Church officials said they would give prosecutors those names only if the alleged victims gave their permission. But even if alleged victims come forward, prosecutors are uncertain whether many cases would be prosecuted. The statute of limitations for child rape runs out 10 years after the victim's 16th birthday and six years in cases of indecent assault.

Earlier this month, Law said the archdiocese would report new sexual abuse to authorities, but he ruled out releasing information of past acts. That changed after the release of about 10,000 court documents detailing how the church protected Geoghan even after warnings from doctors who were treating the priest.

Recent Vatican guidelines require church officials to report allegations of clerical misconduct to Rome. But the guidelines don't address the issue of informing civil officials of alleged sexual abuse.

Scott Appleby, director of Notre Dame's Chuswa Center for the Study of American Catholicism, said the problem is not confined to Massachusetts. ''It was all too customary by dioceses throughout the country to give preference to protecting the priests instead of the victims,'' he said.

Such confusion over the church's responsibility is familiar to Patrick McSorley, 27, who has filed suit against the Boston archdiocese. The lawsuit claims McSorley was assaulted by Geoghan in 1986, two years after officials allegedly learned of the priest's pedophilia.

''It's been a long time coming,'' McSorley said. ''It's disgusting how they hid all that information through the years when they knew the problem and could have been taking care of it.''

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