The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


College to award Law honorary degree

By Michael Paulson and Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 5/16/2002

Hellenic College, a small Greek Orthodox undergraduate school in Brookline, is planning to award an honorary degree to Cardinal Bernard F. Law this weekend, sparking protest from some faculty members concerned about Law's handling of clergy sexual abuse.

The faculty at the college voted 2-0, with two abstentions and three absences, to withhold its support for an honorary degree to Law, who is the Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston. Some faculty members plan to boycott a reception tomorrow night and the commencement ceremony Saturday to express their disapproval.

The Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou, the president of Hellenic College and the affiliated graduate seminary, Holy Cross School of Theology, said the board of the undergraduate school decided to award the honorary degreee in humanities to Law before the current crisis erupted. He said the degree is in honor of Law's long record of improving relations between Orthodox Christians and Catholics, as well as his work for affordable housing. The degree, he added, does not signal approval of Law's handling of priests accused of sexual abuse.

''Cardinal Law has been a friend of the Orthodox community for years and years, and this was offered to him months ago, prior to any of this happening,'' Triantafilou said. ''We don't affirm any of that [abusive] activity by any person, let alone a clergyperson, and we don't want to be involved with that issue. We offered this [degree] as an expression of gratitude for all the other areas he was involved in.''

The faculty concerns are being spearheaded by John T. Chirban, a professor of psychology and the senior member of the faculty at Hellenic College. Chirban said he will not attend the dinner or the commencement if Law is present, and that he understands some other faculty members are taking the same position.

''There are carloads of evidence that raise serious moral questions about this person, and to be giving him a doctorate seems to be the opposite of what we should be doing,'' Chirban said. ''To be honoring him in this way seems very problematic.''

The Hellenic College board is chaired by Archbishop Demetrios, who is the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, and the board includes Metropolitan Methodios, the presiding hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Boston. Both bishops referred calls to Triantafilou.

Law, who has been widely criticized for his failure to remove from ministry priests accused of sexually abusing minors, has previously announced that he would not attend the Boston College commencement or deliver the address at an Ohio seminary because his presence might prove distracting. He has signalled his desire to accept the Hellenic College degree and to attend the commencement this weekend. Law's spokesman did not return a call yesterday.

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at

This story ran on page A24 of the Boston Globe on 5/16/2002.
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