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Spotlight Report

Law says painful journey led to policy's passage

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 6/15/2002

Full text of the bishops' charter

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Law recounts painful journey

D ALLAS - Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston, saying his painful experience mishandling clergy sexual abuse cases helped lead US Catholic bishops to approve tougher child protection measures yesterday, declared last night that he now hopes to restore his effectiveness as archbishop of Boston with the help of God.

Despite persistent calls for his resignation from lay people in Boston and throughout the country, Law said that he plans to remain in his current post.

''I'm here as archbishop, and that's where I should be,'' he said.

Law would not say whether he ever offered to step down, although he has acknowledged discussing the issue of his resignation with Pope John Paul II in April.

''As a matter of policy, I don't discuss conversations that I have with the Holy Father - I think those are really privileged conversations,'' he said.

Law, who has been archbishop of Boston since 1984 and was one of the most influential prelates in the United States, has been embroiled in controversy since January, when the Globe reported details of how he allowed the Rev. John J. Geoghan to remain in ministry despite knowing that Geoghan was an alleged child molester. The story sparked a nationwide furor over the church's handling of sexually abusive priests around the country, and in response, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, at a meeting in Dallas yesterday, approved a new mandatory child protection policy for all dioceses.

Law pointed out that in January, in response to concern over the Geoghan case, he decided that the Archdiocese of Boston would report all allegations of sexual abuse to state authorities, even though such a step was not then required by state law. He also decided to remove from ministry all priests ever accused of abuse, which led to the dismissal of more than a dozen priests. Those two provisions are now national policy, as a result of the vote taken by the bishops yesterday.

''In some ways, I think being archbishop anywhere, or being a bishop anywhere in the United States these days, is a daunting challenge, and certainly it has provided unique challenges for me over the past six months. But I believe that what happened today [when the bishops voted] benefited by that painful experience,'' he said. ''I think the charter [for the protection of children] has benefited by the difficult lessons that I have learned in Boston.''

Law said he will be able to function effectively as a moral leader ''only with God's help, and I pray for that constantly.''

Law had not spoken to the news media since February, but last night, after the bishops finished their debate and celebrated Mass, he granted five-minute, one-on-one interviews to five Boston television affiliates and the city's two daily newspapers. Seated in a hotel suite, he was calm, soft-spoken, and greeted reporters warmly, but he was also clearly pained by his situation, and he willingly described the apology he offered to his fellow bishops at a closed-door session Thursday.

''I said to the bishops that never in my wildest, worst nightmare could I have imagined doing what I was then doing, and I discussed with them some of what the past six months has been like for me personally: the distrust, the anger, the sense of betrayal, the fact that for many, I've become an object of contempt,'' he said. ''I then pointed out that what added to that was the recognition that Boston, and I personally, had placed an added burden upon the bishops, and I apologized to them for that.''

Law said he also tried to draw some lessons from his own experience and to share those lessons with his fellow bishops.

''I also indicated to them what I had learned through these six months, that our focus really must be primarily the protection of children,'' he said. ''Not that we are not to be concerned with the priests - we must be. Scandal - we must be. The good of the parish and the church - we must be. But the primary focus has got to be on children, and if it is, then the way you handle these other problems is going to be different, and it's that focus that has come to me with a new clarity.''

Law said priests who are abusive need to be removed from ministry to protect children. But he said that the new policy also holds bishops accountable, even though it does not require any bishop to lose his job.

''We're holding ourselves accountable in terms of formulating this charter, in terms of committing ourselves to implementing it ... in terms of holding ourselves accountable to one another,'' he said.

Law said he was particularly pleased that, after considerable controversy and debate, the bishops approved a retroactive zero-tolerance policy that removes from active ministry any priest who ever abused a minor.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/15/2002.
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