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Spotlight Report

South End priest says church must shed corporate image

Eyes property sale, social service cuts

By Matt Carroll, Globe Staff, 4/16/2002

A priest who is one of Cardinal Bernard F. Law's most vocal backers said the cardinal must take a more spiritual focus and should sell off his official residence, close some Catholic schools, and drop some social services.

The Rev. Robert J. Carr, parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, where Law says Mass, said in a statement posted yesterday on the cathedral's Web site that the church should ''stop being a corporation and start being a community of faith.''

Carr, who has commented frequently on the current sexual abuse crisis in print and on television, said in an interview the statement represented his viewpoint only and was not approved by any church officials.

While his statement criticized Law's handling of the crisis which has racked the archdiocese, Carr also restated his view that the cardinal should not resign, saying he is best qualified to end the crisis.

A spokeswoman for the archdiocese did not return calls seeking comment.

Also yesterday, the Rev. Richard J. Mehm, pastor of Immaculate Conception Church in Malden, said he wrote a personal letter to Law, urging him to step aside. He declined further comment, other than to say the letter represented only his own position.

In his statement, Carr suggested several concrete steps are needed for the church to regain its focus, including shutting down Catholic elementary and high schools where students and their parents do not attend church.

In those cases, he said, the church is ''providing a service to people who have essentially rejected our faith. Such schools should be closed and the assets sold and given to the poor,'' unless, he said, the money is needed for legal settlements with people who were sexually abused by priests.

While he said he did not have any particular schools in mind, Carr said in the interview that the litmus test for closing or keeping a school open should be how many parents and children are ''active in the faith.''

In his statement, he suggested selling the cardinal's residence in Brighton and giving the money to the poor, again unless the money is needed for settlements. Carr also criticized Boston College, saying the cardinal's home should not be sold to BC because ''it would be silly to offer it to a Catholic institution that itself produces people who, by their inactivity as Catholics, reject our faith.'' Boston College let it be known last week that it hoped Law would not attend the school's commencement this spring, fearing that his presence would cast a pall over the ceremonies.

Social service agencies that duplicate what is done by the state or could be done by the state might also be eliminated, Carr said. He said he did not have any agencies in mind, but suggested selling off their assets to secular agencies.

Carr said that many in the church would find his views radical, which he said did not bother him.

''Rather than focusing on our corporate needs, we need to be a faith community focused on Jesus Christ,'' Carr said in the interview. ''We're called to look into the eyes of these victims and to say, `Jesus died for these victims, therefore we need to treat them with dignity.'''

He said Law, his predecessors, and other church leaders have acted as if the church was a corporation, so people - including victims abused by priests - have treated the church as if it were a corporation by suing and boycotting.

Carr called his statement ''A Plan for the New Millennium.'' It was posted at

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2002.
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