The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church



The Cardinal's choice


Cardinal Bernard Law deserves credit for candor in his letter yesterday. But he still has to resolve the essential dilemma laid out in it: How can he, ''a lightning rod of division,'' as he put it, fulfill his stated desire to ''provide a ministry of unity.''

Law said he would continue to serve but never explicitly said he would remain the archbishop of Boston indefinitely.

The letter also leaves unanswered many questions about his and his top aides' dealings with priests accused of sexual abuse. The constant pressure on him to provide answers will impede his attempt to provide a ''ministry of unity'' - a phrase in the letter - to the Catholics of the Boston area.

Law attributed the mishandling of the Paul Shanley case to inadequate record keeping, implying that he never saw the reports that Shanley advocated sex with young people. Shanley achieved fame among priests and lay people as a ''street priest'' in the late 1960s. And Father (now Bishop) John McCormack, one of Law's personnel aides, was Shanley's seminary classmate. It strains credulity to suggest that no one was aware that Shanley was too dangerous to be allowed free rein in a Newton parish. Law will be asked repeatedly whether improving institutional memory, as he suggests, will be the answer to what appears to be a conscious institutional cover-up, including dozens of out-of-court settlements that contained confidentiality agreements.

The cardinal repeated his assertion that he failed to respond adequately years ago came because he did not yet fully understand the insidiousness of sexual abuse or its criminality. He will be asked, again and again, whether that ignorance was caused by pride in church institutions that prevented a close examination of the evil from a few priests.

The cardinal, in his letter, acknowledged that ''secrecy often inhibits healing and places others at risk.'' If openness is now the policy, why did the church lawyer, as late as last month, try to prevent release of the Shanley files? Law will be asked if, in the future, the archdiocese is committed to opening all its personnal records of priests accused of abuse.

Law's letter to his fellow priests cited the ''unity in ministry which is ours through ordination.'' Priests in their parishes are caught betwen loyalty to their archbishop and the anger and pain in their congregations.

He will be in seclusion at his Brighton residence over the weekend instead of celebrating Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross or performing the other public duties customary for the archbishop of Boston. He said in the letter that ''my desire is to serve the archdiocese and the whole church.'' And he has done much good over his 18 years as archbishop. The question he still must answer, in his heart, is whether Boston's Catholics are helped, or hurt, by his further ministry here.

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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