The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church



Cardinal Law's response


AFTER INTENSE publicity about John Geoghan's pedophilia and under pressure from the state Senate, Cardinal Bernard Law has improved the archdiocesan policy against sexual abuse of children. However, his statement at a press conference yesterday that "I feel closure on this matter" is premature. There remains a question whether his influence as a spiritual leader has been seriously impaired.

The cardinal has toughened archdiocesan policy so all employees who know of past sexual abuse will be required to report it to the civil authorities. This is in line with a bill just passed by the state Senate and the advice of the state attorney general. The bill, which requires House passage, still allows a loophole for any information gained during "professional duties." This vague term ought to be replaced by language specifying that a priest must reveal any information about sexual abuse except that learned during confession.

Law also announced the appointment of a commission headed by Michael Collins, chief executive of the Caritas Christi hospital network, to consider whether other church policies on abuse could be improved. This group, which includes medical school deans and professors, has the breadth of knowledge and independence to devise policies that could make the archdiocese a leader in preventing recurrences of abuse by Catholic clergy.

The inability or unwillingness of archdio cesan leaders to provide that leadership in Geoghan's case was made clear in the articles and documents published by the Globe yesterday. "I am confident that you will again render fine priestly service to the people of God in St. Julia Parish," the cardinal wrote to Geoghan in 1989 despite's the priest's 15-year record of abuse. Even seven years later, after other allegations of abuse, Law remained receptive to Geoghan's plea that he not enter treatment.

The latest archdiocesan policy, following an earlier revision Jan. 9, came after articles in the Globe detailing Geoghan's trail of abuse and the release of internal archdiocesan documents unsealed as the result of civil suits filed by Geoghan's victims and a legal motion by the Globe. These articles suggest that archdiocesan officials were more interested in shielding the church from scandal than protecting children.

"I made mistakes," the cardinal said yesterday, but his actions went far deeper than simple human errors to a profound failure of pastoral leadership.

After all the negative publicity, Law and his aides have produced a policy that seems likely to prevent another Geoghan case. The cardinal, however, is the preeminent spiritual figure in New England, and the disclosures have produced calls for his resignation. He repeated his intention to stay on the job yesterday. Still, the cardinal's ability to lead has already been diminished, and additional archdio cesan failings may yet be revealed. The question of his leadership is still open.

This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 1/25/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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