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Sex Abuse Crisis

Pressure mounts for Law’s resignation


On March 19, the day officials of the Boston archdiocese turned over four boxes of files detailing more information about allegations of clerical sexual misconduct to Massachusetts Attorney General Tom Reilly, leaders in the local business community began to withdraw support from Cardinal Bernard Law, some even calling for his resignation.

Writing on the op-ed pages of The Boston Globe, for example, David F. D’Alessandro, chairman and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services, said, “The church can’t heal with Law at the helm.” The Catholic father of three boys, D’Alessandro went on to say, “Bringing this crisis to an end requires a new beginning. It demands a pastor and teacher and father against whom there is no doubt, no reservation or concern. The cardinal would like to fill that role. But wrongly or not, the doubt and reservation and concern exist, and they make it more difficult for the church and its parishioners to reconcile.”

While acknowledging “the many good and important things the cardinal has done over the years,” D’Alessandro wrote that a new leader is the “only one way for the archdiocese to put this scandal behind it and regain its rightful role as a force for good within our community.”

On the other side of town, the Boston Herald’s publisher, Patrick J. Purcell, authorized an editorial titled, “It’s time for Law to make his exit.” The editorial said, “It is the scale of the tragedy and the long-practiced deceit of victims and families that has made it impossible for the cardinal to lead the archdiocese.”

Consequently, the editorial concludes. “It pains us to say it, but after such a failure of leadership -- closing his eyes to so many transgressions of the vows, engaging in so much deceit, failing to adopt preventative programs as neighboring Fall River [Mass.] diocese did -- Cardinal Law simply is in no position to expect anyone to accept his authority on moral issues.”

A news story in The Boston Globe reported that Purcell, a Catholic, “was furious over the cardinal’s handling of the serial pedophile priest John Geoghan, whom Law transferred to Purcell’s parish, St. Julia’s of Weston, despite knowing that Geoghan had molested children at other parishes.”

There at St. Julia’s the Globe reported that Geoghan presided over the wedding of Purcell’s daughter. Also, Purcell’s wife was a teacher in the parish’s religious education program, which Geoghan supervised, according to the Globe.

Last month another Catholic who once advised Law, Paul La Camera, the president and general manager of WCVB-TV, called on the Law to consider resigning because he had lost his moral authority.

A member of the Irish Catholic business establishment and one of the cardinal’s closest advisers, Jack Connors, founder and executive director of Hill Holiday Connors Cosmopulos advertising agency, has backed off from his initial support of the cardinal.

“I gave him my thoughts, and there wasn’t any reason to continue after having done so,” Connors told Globe reporters. “My recommendation to the cardinal was to get everything out, don’t hold anything back, there is no reason to have secrets, and be totally forthcoming. You can be the judge of whether he has or hasn’t done that,” he added.

But Law has retained public support among other high-profile business leaders, including Peter Lynch, former mutual fund manager and chairman of Fidelity Management. Lynch has not “wavered” in his $10 million pledge to the current $300 million fund-raising campaign, extended for six more months due to the scandal, according to The New York Times. Law has said that no money from that campaign will go to pay for settlements against diocesan priests.

Law also enjoys the support of Latino and Vietnamese Catholics. Both of those communities have prayed for him inside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End, and Latino Catholics rallied and prayed outside Law’s residence in the city’s Brighton neighborhood.

Law’s detractors, meanwhile, have kept up their protest vigil outside the cathedral every Sunday when the cardinal presides at the 11 a.m. Mass. Small groups of church reform advocates who want Law to resign have announced details of a Good Friday prayer of solidarity vigil outside the cathedral March 29 at 2:30 p.m. Organizers say it will take more than 500 people to surround the cathedral. They intend to manifest support and pray for “victims of sexual abuse and others who are suffering and for the resurrection of a church that hears the voices of all its people,” according to the group, a coalition of concerned Catholics, and its promotional literature (goodfridayevent@yahoo.com).

Meanwhile, both the Times and the Herald ran news stories disclosing that the church may need to seek loans and gifts, as well as to sell some of its prime real estate, including perhaps the mansion where Law resides and St. John’s Seminary, both located near the Boston College campus.

In other news, the Globe reported that Law has decided to move his major spring fundraiser, “The Cardinal’s Garden Party,” from his Lake Street residence to another location. Citing “the discomfort of Boston’s Catholic elite,” the Globe reported that the archdiocese “has been forced to move its glitziest annual fundraiser.”

Across the Charles River in Cambridge, prominent Catholics drew several hundred people March 19 to a panel discussion and open forum on the crisis. The event was sponsored by and held at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Participants included Kennedy School public policy professor Mary Jo Bane, who has called for Law to resign. She advocated a greater “voice strategy” for the laity. “It’s my church, and I am not going to be driven out by the bad action of the hierarchy, and or be driven out by a refusal to discuss all the issues facing us,” she said.

On the other hand, former Boston mayor and ambassador to the Vatican Ray Flynn expressed concern about reform advocates’ motives. “I think there is a hidden agenda for a more dramatic change on some of these issues,” he said, such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

Chuck Colbert writes from Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, March 29, 2002