The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Law decides to stay

But advisor says his statement is meant to buy time

By Michael Rezendes and Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 4/13/2002

Resisting mounting pressure to resign, Cardinal Bernard F. Law said yesterday he would continue to serve as archbishop of Boston despite criticism of his handling of the widening clergy sexual abuse scandal.

But in a two-page statement delivered to priests yesterday afternoon, Law did not say how long he expects to remain in his position, and a church spokeswoman said he would remain in seclusion for the next several days to pray and consult with advisers.

''He is in private meetings and in prayer to find the best way to serve the archdiocese and the community at this troubled time,'' said spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey.

In his letter to priests, Law said, ''My desire is to serve this Archdiocese and the whole Church with every fiber of my being. This I will continue to do as long as God gives me the opportunity.''

One prominent adviser to the cardinal said that Law has not reached a final decision on the resignation question but is in fact convinced that he has lost his ability to effectively lead the archdiocese.

Yesterday's statement, the adviser said, was designed to provide more time for Pope John Paul II and other Vatican officials to review Law's tenure and determine his fate. ''It could be a week, it could be a month'' before a final decision is reached, said the adviser, who asked that his name not be used.

Law's retreat into seclusion was also underscored by his failure to contribute his weekly column to The Pilot, the archdiocesan weekly newspaper, and a highly unusual announcement that he will not say Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End on Sunday. Law has rarely skipped saying Mass on Sundays at the cathedral in recent years, except when he has been traveling.

Influential Catholics and parishioners who have urged Law to resign, insisting that he has lost his moral authority to lead Catholics in the nation's fourth largest diocese, said they were stunned to learn that Law has decided to remain in Boston - at least for the immediate future.

''I'm terribly disappointed by this development,'' said Thomas P. O'Neill III, a former Massachusetts lieutenant governor who was part of an informal group that met with the cardinal Feb. 19 at the chancery to advise him on how to respond to the crisis. ''This church needs to heal, and that healing process cannot begin while Cardinal Law is in place.''

Phil Saviano, a victim of clergy sexual abuse and the director of the local chapter of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said, ''There's certainly going to be a lot of angry victims who were looking forward to achieving a certain degree of healing, believing their speaking out over the last few months would result in some significant change in the Boston Archdiocese.''

There were voices of support as well. The Rev. Robert J. Carr, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, welcomed Law's decision.

''I'm glad he's staying,'' Carr said. ''There is so much at stake if he were to step down. It would be like a father walking away from his family in the midst of a problem. And this has been a time of testing for him - he has been through an intense baptism by fire - and there is a clear indication that things are different now.''

But at the chancery yesterday, several disappointed Catholics said they would stage a candlelight vigil outside the cardinal's residence last night to protest Law's decision to remain on the job.

''By not resigning, the cardinal is mobilizing lay Catholics to a far greater degree than they have been thus far,'' said Anne Barrett Doyle, a parishioner at St. Agnes Church in Reading.

Protesters yesterday held signs reading, ''Shame,'' and ''Go'' behind Morrissey as she stood before television cameras, taking questions on Law's statement.

Law's statement came four days after an extraordinary news conference Monday in which an alleged victim of sexual abuse and his lawyer aired formerly secret church documents that showed Law and his top deputies kept the Rev. Paul R. Shanley in active ministry even though they knew Shanley had been accused of sexually abusing minors and had advocated sexual relations between men and boys.

In the statement, Law attributed his decisions about Shanley to faulty record-keeping.

''The case of Father Paul Shanley is particularly troubling for us,'' Law said in his statement, which was less contrite in tone than his earlier statements on the scandal. ''For me personally, it has brought home with painful clarity how inadequate our record keeping has been. A continual institutional memory concerning allegations of abuse of children was lacking.''

In his statement, Law also addressed the archdiocese's recent policy of keeping allegations of sexual misconduct against priests secret even though sexual abuse of a minor is a crime.

''In an effort to give a pastoral response, we have not taken into sufficient account the criminality involved in abuse,'' Law said. ''In a desire to encourage victims who might not desire to enter a criminal process to come forward to us, we did not communicate cases to public authorities.''

Law changed that policy in stages, beginning in January, under pressure from Attorney General Thomas Reilly after disclosures that Law and his top bishops allowed priests to continue doing parish work where they had access to children even when they had been credibly accused of sexual misconduct.

Since then, the 70-year-old Law has endured a devastating three months in which he has been forced to acknowledge that nearly 100 priests were alleged to have molested minors over the last five decades, and that in many cases church officials continued to allow those priests to work with children.

Law, one of the pope's strongest American allies, is the senior American Catholic prelate and only recently was at the peak of his influence, enjoying access to a friendly White House, a central role in formulating important foreign and domestic policies for the American bishops, and a period of relative calm in Boston after leading the archdiocese through a difficult period of parish closings.

Law also built close and lasting friendships with leaders of Boston's Jewish community and has been one of the church's leading critics of abortion rights.

But Law's standing has steadily eroded over the last three months as influential Catholics and parishioners have said he should step down - some because of his handling of the crisis and others because he has become an impediment to fund-raising for the church's day-to-day operations and the many programs the church runs for the poor.

Although Law repeatedly apologized for his actions in handling priests accused of sexual misconduct, a succession of revelations about the role he played in overseeing accused priests has continued to undermine his support.

Law's credibility was particularly damaged by the release of previously secret church documents in the cases of one former priest, convicted child molester John J. Geoghan, and Shanley.

In each of those cases, the documents showed that Law, his predecessor, the late Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, and Law's top deputies knew of the allegations, yet kept both in parish work while writing them complimentary letters and leaving virtually no written record of concern for their victims.

Law's current plight marks not only a remarkable turnabout for him personally but also for the church in Boston and for dioceses.

State lawmakers and prosecutors, most of whom are Catholic, once seemed reluctant to take on the church, but in recent months they have aggressively criticized church officials for failing to turn over allegations of sexual abuse against minors.

Meanwhile, lay Catholics, who lack significant institutional power within the church, are debating ways to take a greater role in church affairs while attempting to force a debate on subjects such as the all-male priesthood and the requirement that most Roman Catholic priests be celibate.

At the chancery yesterday, some lay Catholics said the changes they would like to see should begin with the departure of Law and any other church official who was involved in the scandal.

''Everyone in the scandal has got to go,'' said Joe Gallagher, a practicing Catholic from Wellesley and a member of a newly formed group called Coalition of Concerned Catholics.

In another measure of concern about the clergy abuse scandal, an unscientific survey taken on the Globe's Web site yesterday after Law's letter to his priests was made public drew more than 13,000 responses in just a few hours.

Respondents overwhelmingly disagreed with Law's decision to remain on the job.

But Law's statement yesterday, a top adviser insisted, was only part of a decision-making process on Law's future that will include the pope's deputies in the Vatican and in Washington and could result in Law stepping aside.

''They had to find a way to avoid it appearing that the pope was succumbing to media or public pressure,'' said the adviser.

Stephen Kurkjian, Walter V. Robinson, Kevin Cullen, and Francie Latour of the Globe Staff and contributing reporter Jessica L. Van Sack contributed to this article.

Michael Rezendes can be reached at

Michael Paulson can be reached at

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

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