THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING
ARDINAL BERNARD LAW and his official newspaper are wise to go beyond the issue of sexual abuse by priests to discuss broader problems involving the Archdiocese of Boston. Although the cardinal has already distanced himself from some proposals, he and his aides will be judged by how honestly and openly they explore all the dimensions of the scandal and the harm it has done.
The current issue of The Pilot devotes an extraordinary amount of space to the matter. Its editorial focuses on "serious questions in the minds of the laity that simply will not disappear," including the celibacy requirement, homosexuals as priests, and the view of many Catholics that Jesus did not mandate a men-only priesthood.
None of these relates directly to sexual abuse of minors, but other articles in The Pilot suggest a crisis in the priesthood of which these issues are a part. Cardinal Law, in an address to a lay convocation reprinted in the issue, referred to priests "who are very often isolated and feeling lonely." He would not have used those words when the archdiocese had more priests than it does today; the number of active diocesan priests has declined from 1072 to 560 in the last 20 years. Celibacy would not be a pressing issue if so many men hadn't given up the priesthood to get married.
An article reprinted from the Catholic News Service in the same issue suggests that the Vatican is deeply concerned about the number of gay priests. "Church leaders are pressing harder so that people of permanent homosexual orientation are screened out as candidates for the priesthood," it said.
Anyone who takes a vow of celibacy and remains in the active priesthood ought to keep it. Seminary officials ought to be careful to prevent the ordination of anyone attracted to minors. But sexual orientation in and of itself should not be a bar to ordination.
Cardinal Law in his address acknowledged the calls for greater involvement of women in the church. The editorial promises a discussion of women's ordination next week, which another article from the Catholic News Service seems to preempt. "The church has no authority," it said, "to ordain women to the ministerial priesthood."
Women's ordination may seem far afield from the sexual abuse of youngsters. But the scandal over abuse raises questions about how the Boston archdiocese and others around the country select and retain clergy. Law said, "You have my commitment that I will do the best I can to find the course, the path, that will take us to where we need to be as a church, united in love." That commitment ought to lead him to look at the culture that drew abusers to the priesthood, allowed them to be ordained, and retained them as priests while church leaders covered up their offenses. The cardinal needs to set a course to strengthen the church even if it involves changes that can be made only by the Vatican.
This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 3/18/2002.
For complete coverage of the priest abuse scandal, go to http://www.boston.com/globe/abuse