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Church in Crisis

Rome trip brings Law little relief


Cardinal Bernard F. Law headed home from the extraordinary meeting in Rome, leaving the solidarity and support he enjoyed among his fellow U.S. cardinals and Pope John Paul II. He returned to persistent difficulties arising from the sex abuse scandal.

The Boston Globe, for example, repeated an earlier editorial call for Law to resign. This time, the newspaper on April 25 criticized the cardinals for ignoring lay people: “If the cardinals and the Vatican were open to the voices of the laity, they would hear the pleas from many Catholics in the Boston archdiocese that Law resign immediately. [The editors] agree. This scandal has destroyed his ability to function as a church leader.”

Local church observers said they expected to see stepped up demonstrations and protests outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross when Law presided at the 11 a.m. Sunday liturgy. Meanwhile, some said, church-reform advocacy groups, such as Voice of the Faithful and the Coalition of Concerned Catholics (NCR, April 26), may become more active, continuing to develop procedures that incorporate a greater voice and role of the laity -- along with the clergy -- in formulating and implementing church policies pertaining to governance and finance, among other areas of church life.

Despite support among Boston Catholics -- and non-Catholics -- for Law’s resignation, there is a growing awareness that, at least for the time being he will remain.

Many victims have said they want Law gone immediately. On CNN’s “Talkback,” Patrick McSorley, who alleges clerical sex abuse, said Law should step down: “He was very negligent when 18 years ago he knew [of cases of abuse].” He added, “The only way to take a good step forward in the right direction” is to “start cleaning house.”

But a thorough house cleaning could have far-reaching consequences, a point illustrated April 22 in The Boston Globe. An editorial-page cartoon pictured the pope holding on to a toppling-over figure of Law, with four other similarly falling prelates -- Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H.; Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis.; Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y.; and Cardinal Edward Egan of New York -- lined up behind him. “Dominoes vobiscum,” an observer says in the cartoon.

If Law must resign, then by that same logic, so should other prelates who have been shown, by documents, lawyers and victims, to be connected to harboring and protecting priest sex abusers.

Ann Barrett Doyle of the Coalition of Concerned Catholics told CNN that the “cardinal’s leaving is a crucial thing for victims as the first authentic recognition that the hurt they have experienced matters to the church.” She added, however, “Cardinal Law’s leaving won’t solve anything, but it would be a sign of respect for victims, who should be first.”

Not all victims are so quick to call on Law to go. Bob Barrett, another victim who alleges clerical sexual abuse, said on CNN that Law could be given a chance to remedy the Boston situation if “certain conditions” were met, such as a “realistic” and “verifiable” policy that included input from victims and victims’ lawyers.

The fate of Boston’s cardinal is not the only matter of concern here in the nation’s fourth largest diocese. Attorney Robert Sherman expressed agreement with the proposed “one strike” policy, which the U.S. bishops have not yet approved. Sherman and colleague Roderick MacLeish are representing more than a hundred victims of clerical sex abuse.

“One strike and you’re out is the right policy,” Sherman said. “If somebody is engaged in an act of sexual abuse, he cannot be part of the moral leadership society and part of the Catholic church.”

Furthermore, Sherman asked, “What happens in cases of past abuse? Do they get an intentional walk here? Are they allowed to just continue on? That has certainly been the policy of the past.” He said that that in order to deal effectively with the sex abuse issue, bishops need to deal with past abusers and “bring them to justice.”

Gay Catholics expressed concern about the content of the cardinals’ statement, released by the Vatican through Reuters. Marianne Duddy, executive director of Dignity/USA, an organization for gay and lesbian Catholics, said she was troubled by a section of the document that said, “The pastors of the church need clearly to promote the correct moral teaching of the church and publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.”

Said Duddy, “That paragraph has Dignity written all over it.” According to Duddy, prior to the meeting at the Vatican, no U.S. official made a link between homosexuality and pedophilia. But, she said, the Vatican’s statement implies that “homosexuality is synonymous with promiscuity and molestation.”

Duddy noted the Vatican statement’s lack of credible scientific evidence linking homosexuality with sex abuse, but said it went out of its way to distance clerical celibacy and pedophilia.

“It is so clear what drives the Vatican agenda,” said Duddy, who lives in Boston.

The Vatican statement says: “Together with the fact that a link between celibacy and pedophilia cannot be scientifically maintained, the meeting reaffirmed the value of priestly celibacy as a gift from God.”

Freelance journalist Chuck Colbert writes from Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, May 3, 2002