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Law's words frame new play

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Spotlight Report

Law's letter addresses abuse scandal

Message in The Pilot compares suffering of church to Jesus

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 3/29/2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, using the betrayal, suffering, and resurrection of Jesus as a metaphor for the state of the scandal-racked Catholic Church during its holiest season, is declaring in a letter to Catholics that ''betrayal hangs like a heavy cloud over the church today.''

Law, the archbishop of Boston, wrote a special Good Friday letter to local Catholics that is published in today's edition of The Pilot, the archdiocesan newspaper, and is to be read or distributed at churches throughout the archdiocese today. The cardinal ordinarily sends a letter to Catholics on Easter, but decided to move up the letter this year because of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

In the letter, Law once again apologizes to victims of clergy sexual abuse, and urges them to inform others, writing, ''to those who bear this memory as a private secret, I urge you to come forward for your own healing and for the protection of others. The archdiocese stands ready to help in this.''

Law, who has increasingly described clergy sexual abuse in theological terms, also used the language of the Easter season to characterize the events that have roiled the church. Over the last three months the Archdiocese of Boston has acknowledged that at least 80 priests have been accused of sexually abusing minors over the last five decades, and that some were allowed to continue in ministry even after the archdiocese knew they were accused of sexual abuse.

''There is no doubt that a betrayal of trust is at the heart of the evil in the sexual abuse of children by clergy,'' Law wrote. ''Priests should be trustworthy beyond any shadow of a doubt. When some have broken that trust, all of us suffer the consequences.''

Law drew parallels between the betrayal of Jesus by Judas and the betrayal of the church by abusive priests and between the suffering of Jesus on the cross and the suffering of the church during the current crisis.

''The tragic account of each act of abuse is like a fresh wound in the side of Christ,'' he wrote.

But Law also made it clear that he finds hope in the church's teaching that Jesus, by dying on the cross, overcame sin and death, and now promises redemption for Catholics.

''Even on this Good Friday, with the weight of the Cross upon our hearts, we look with confident hope to the joy and peace of Resurrection,'' he wrote.

Yesterday, as the Roman Catholic Church began celebrating the three liturgical days leading to Easter, Law prayed for the victims of clergy abuse and for the Afghan, Israeli, and Palestinian people.

Law made the remarks at Holy Cross Cathedral during the homily of Holy Thursday Mass, which Catholics believe commemorates Jesus's last supper with the apostles and the establishment of Eucharist and the priesthood.

''We bring in our hearts all those who have been abused in any way by others, especially those sexually abused as children by clergy,'' Law said.

Afterward, Law knelt on the altar and washed the feet of 12 believers, a traditional Holy Thursday rite of humility recalling how Jesus bathed the feet of his disciples, according to Christian scriptures.

A spokesman for Law, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, said he expects most priests to talk about the issue of clergy sexual abuse on Good Friday or Easter, although he said he does not expect it to be the exclusive focus of their homilies.

''The issue of clergy abuse of children, and the way we've handled it in the past, is on the mind of every Catholic as we enter into these holy days, but we also recognize the positive things we're doing as a church to make sure victims are helped and we move to make sure none of this happens again,'' Coyne said. ''And we focus on our faith, which recognizes not only the presence of sin, but also God's ultimate victory over sin.''

Globe correspondent Ray Henry contributed to this article.Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page A25 of the Boston Globe on 3/29/2002.
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