The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


For faithful, debate goes on

By Marcella Bombardieri, Globe Staff, 4/13/2002

As the spokeswoman for the Boston Archdiocese stood in front of Cardinal Bernard F. Law's Brighton residence to explain that the embattled leader would continue to serve, she had to raise her voice above the long and loud honks of motorists rolling past the church and responding to protesters' signs, which included: ''Honk if you want Law to resign.''

The clamor was another sign of how profoundly shaken and angered many Catholics are by the priest abuse scandal and the role their religious leader played in allowing priests who were known to have sexually abused children to continue their work.

Despite the criticism the scandal has generated, yesterday it was clear that Law still has supporters.

''I think if he just stepped down it would be like leaving the church,'' said Barbie Linares of Georgetown, a 31-year-old Verizon worker.

Critics see Law's decision to resist the tide of calls for his resignation as further evidence that the archdiocese has lost its way.

''He let all this happen all of these years, hurting boys and young children,'' said Dorothy Placente of Rockland. ''It's like he almost did it himself.''

''In my business, when things go wrong, it's my fault, no one else's,'' said Gregory Shea, director of the Space 12 Gallery in the South End and a former altar boy. ''I think he should resign.''

Other Catholics said they cannot regain their trust in the church as long as the local leader is someone who is seen as protecting abusive shepherds rather than innocent members of the flock.

''Being a good Catholic is about being trustful, so you can't be the cardinal of Boston if you don't tell the truth,'' Bob Delponte of Tewksbury said while watching his daughter's softball game yesterday afternoon. ''Particularly the latest information which came out about [accused priest Paul] Shanley early this week, really has made me begin to doubt the integrity of the entire Catholic Church.''

Delponte's brother, Steve, added: ''The church is big business and they've been protecting their own interest, not the interest of the people.''

The tone of Law's letter irritated some, who read it as defiant and not contrite enough. They were particularly peeved at the cardinal's reference to ''inadequate record keeping'' to explain how Shanley was allowed to continue abusing young boys for years and across several parishes. Documents revealed this week show that Law gave Shanley a favorable recommendation and wrote him a fond and gentle letter, despite knowing about the serious abuse allegations against him.

''Then it was ignorance. Now it's record keeping,'' said Kate Benning, 45, a health insurance manager who was protesting at Law's residence yesterday. ''What's the next excuse?

''Before Monday, a lot of people still wanted to give the cardinal the benefit of the doubt,'' she added. ''Now everything has changed.''

On his way to St. Anthony's Shrine in downtown Boston yesterday, Tim Frechette of Sudbury called Law's decision shameful.

''I don't know how the church is going to rebuild trust in priests if the man at the top can't admit that these allegations are true,'' said Frechette, 35, a bond trader.

But Frechette added that Law is not the only one who hasn't made a brave and principled stand. He said individual priests should be speaking out in greater numbers, and added that he's annoyed by the silence in his own parish.

''He deceived the public and the people who follow him,'' said Roy Mendes, who was walking his dog yesterday afternoon on Shawmut Avenue.

But even some of those who were highly critical of Law said they doubted that his departure would redeem the archdiocese.

Michael Nigro, 41, of Medford, said he doubted Pope John Paul II would accept Law's resignation because ''the church doesn't like to give in to public opinion.''

Moreover, even if Law were to step down, church authorities would just ''appoint a replacement who is going to be someone his same age, someone raised the same way with the same values,'' said Nigro, a bond trader.

Nigro's biggest worry is that the controversy will balloon into a financial crisis as well, because he believes the annual Cardinal's Appeal for donations will go largely unanswered.

''I think it's going to be bad for awhile,'' he said.

Some say Law still has the power to heal the wounds in the Catholic community.

''He was in a position to help the victims and he sat there and he didn't, and that's wrong,'' said Nicole Vadala, 29, of Melrose, whose forehead was still damp with holy water from St. Anthony's Shrine. ''But if he can stay and apologize to those who were hurt, I support that.''

''He's a good priest,'' said Gina Baldassari, 22, of South Boston, watching her toddler on the playground. ''I'm glad he's staying.''

Baldassari said that when her son is a little older, she'll warn him about priestly abuse and tell him to be careful.

Perhaps the biggest fear for the archdiocese and the church nationwide is that American Catholics will reject their faith altogether because of the scandal. Vadala doesn't share that fear. ''It's something I'll always feel in my heart, and you can't take that away from me.''

But one man, moved to protest at the cardinal's residence yesterday, said his 20-something-children think he's crazy because he still goes to church.

''I look into my kids' eyes when I get ready to go to Mass on Sunday,'' said John Fraser, 60, a Newton lawyer, ''and my kids say, `Why are you doing this?'''

Globe correspondents Jessica Van Sack, Ray Henry, Caroline Louise Cole, Heather E. Allen, and Jonathan Saltzman contributed to this report, as did Christopher Rowland of the Globe Staff.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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