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Spotlight Report

Pope's choice expected to get close scrutiny

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 12/14/2002

Bishop Wilton Gregory

Bishop Thomas G. Doran

Bishop Donald W. Wuerl

Archbishop Harry J. Flynn

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput

Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien

Bishop William Lori

 About Cardinal Law
Career timeline: Priest to cardinal
Changing statements on abuse
Coverage of his career in Boston

 Photo gallery
Photo gallery: Cardinal Law through the years
Cardinal Law through the years

 Official statements
Cardinal Law on his resignation
Groups, officials, clergy react

 Related stories
The resignation
Law steps down, pope accepts
Scandal eclipses a long record
In cardinal's final days, a firestorm
Admission of awareness damning
Rare speed displayed by Rome
Focus moves to Law's deputies
The successor
Pope's choice to receive scrutiny
Lennon called a skilled manager
Memo cited in '90s abuse case
Abuse victims react with relief
Catholics cling to hope of rebirth
Priests see sadness and hope
Many Latinos find foregiveness
Only Ch. 4 cut back coverage
Law deposition may be on hold
Archdiocese faces 'mess' in court
Scandal's impact
Abuse patterns found nationwide
Around world, scandal takes toll
Editorial: The cardinal's departure
Op-ed: Law captain of his own fall

A tumultuous year for archdiocese

 Message board readers react to Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation.
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Pope John Paul II appoints scores of bishops every year, but few decisions he makes are likely to be subject to the scrutiny certain to attend his choice for next archbishop of Boston.

Clergy and laypeople are looking to the pope to choose someone who has theological depth, who has the pastoral skills and personal charisma to heal a wounded church, and who has the administrative skills to oversee a large archdiocese with 2 million Catholics, 362 parishes, 11 hospitals and medical centers, and 160 schools.

But observers say most important is that the pope choose someone wholly untainted by the clergy sexual abuse scandal. That means, most likely, a bishop who has never served in Boston and who has not kept abusive priests on the job.

''We need to bring in someone who has no connection to Boston,'' said the Rev. Emile R. Boutin Jr., parochial vicar of Immaculate Conception Church in Stoughton. ''That's what we need to move forward.''

The search for an archbishop of Boston begins, officially, in Washington, but all the real decisions are ultimately made in Rome. The choice is important not only because of the crisis in Boston, but also because it could affect the future leadership of the global church: By tradition, archbishops of Boston are eventually elevated to cardinal, which means the next archbishop will likely have a vote at the election of the next pope, and will likely be seen as a leader of the church in America.

''This is such a unique situation, and so delicate - it's probably the most significant and important appointment this pope will have made in his entire pontificate, because of the nature of the events,'' said the Rev. Keith F. Pecklers, a professor of theology at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and currently a visiting scholar at Boston College. ''The Vatican is going to treat this very carefully, and they're not going to do it quickly.''

John Paul II has tended to prioritize theology over personality in choosing bishops, according to many church scholars, so that many of the American bishops are stronger on canon law than on conversation. But priests, laypeople and others say they want a bishop who can rebuild relationships, making pastoral and interpersonal skills unusually important.

''He should have the ability to listen, and the ability to bring together divided and hurt and marginalized elements of this diocese, in a spirit of faith and prayer,'' said the Rev. Robert J. Bowers, pastor of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Charlestown.

And Deal Hudson, editor of the Catholic magazine Crisis said, ''You've got to have somebody who can unify people, and at the same time explain why fidelity to church teaching is the answer to the problem. You need someone who can do that with a friendly face, and really emanate compassion, not just for victims, but also for the angry and disappointed. Someone who can reach out spiritually. In other words, a really great guy.''

The formal process for selection of a bishop is to be coordinated by a little-known 72-year-old prelate from Colombia, Archbishop Gabriel Montalvo, who as the Vatican's apostolic nuncio to the United States serves as the pope's eyes and ears in this country.

Montalvo is supposed to gather a report on the state of the archdiocese from the new apostolic administrator here, Bishop Richard G. Lennon, and he is supposed to consult with leading figures in the national and regional church, including the US cardinals, leaders of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and the bishops of New England.

The nuncio then recommends three names to the Congregation for Bishops, a Vatican department, which further studies the candidates's backgrounds and then makes recommendations to the pope.

Speculation about Pope John Paul II's appointments has often proved wrong, but that didn't stop priests, bishops, and laypeople from floating the names of a variety of possible successors to Law.

The most frequently mentioned candidate yesterday was Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of St. Paul-Minneapolis, who won credit for his work from 1986 to 1994 as bishop of Lafayette, La., restoring confidence to a diocese roiled by the clergy sex abuse issue in the early 1980s. Flynn, 69, was a longtime seminary rector, so he has experience with training priests, and he is currently chairman of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops' ad hoc committee on sexual abuse, so he has extensive experience with this issue.

Many church-watchers are also eyeing Bishop Donald W. Wuerl, 62, of Pittsburgh, who is known for his tough action against sexually abusive priests. He fought for 14 years and finally persuaded the Vatican to defrock a priest who was accused but never convicted of child molestation.

But a number of other bishops are frequently mentioned - Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Denver, a 58-year-old Native American who is a Capuchin friar and is known for his charisma, and Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the archdiocese of the military services, which ministers to Catholics in the Armed Services.

Among the longer-shot candidates, according to scholars of the American church, are Bishop Wilton D. Gregory of Belleville, Ill., who is the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, and has overseen the church's response to the sex abuse crisis, and Bishops Thomas G. Doran of Rockford, Ill., and William E. Lori of Bridgeport, Conn., who helped negotiate with the Vatican revisions to the church's national child protection policy.

''This is all vague speculation at this point, and I suspect there is going to be an interregnum of several months,'' said the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of First Things, a journal on religion and public life.

Neuhaus said there is likely to be little active campaigning for the job, because, he said, ''anybody who wants to be archbishop of Boston at this point has to be either a zealously determined candidate for crucifixion or else a masochist.''

American church officials like to say that anyone can participate in the selection process - clergy or laypeople can offer opinions to the apostolic nuncio just like bishops. But the process is not formalized - a woman who answered the phone at the nuncio's office yesterday said the office never speaks to the news media. She referred all calls to Rome, and said she wasn't sure how people might submit recommendations or thoughts on who should be next archbishop of Boston.

However, in the case of important sees like Boston, this process is often circumvented. Sitting American cardinals will almost certainly contact the pope directly to offer their suggestions, and the pope could choose someone who is not recommended by the nuncio or the congregation for bishops.

''On this issue, John Paul II does whatever he wants,'' said Dennis Doyle, religious studies professor at the University of Dayton and author of ''The Church Emerging From Vatican II,'' who said the pope has on occasion picked someone not recommended by the Congregation for Bishops. ''He does not pay a lot of attention to how things have been in the past. Whoever is appointed is the person John Paul II thinks should be appointed.''

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 12/14/2002.
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