The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church



Power to the laity


IN ADVANCE OF the deliberations at the Vatican this week on the sexual abuse of children, American prelates are signaling that they will be discussing matters that go far beyond the immediate issue. That is all to the good, but the American cardinals and Vatican officials should also remember lay Catholics and consider their views on long-term church reforms, including the removal of sexual abusers from the priesthood and protecting youngsters from future assaults.

That's what Cardinal Roger M. Mahony is doing in Los Angeles, where he has expanded his commission dealing with sexual abuse to include lay people and is even giving them the power to shape the archdiocese's response to cases.

In Boston, a similar commission reports to Cardinal Bernard F. Law. The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman, said Law has not once overruled the commission since it was established in 1993, but it is still the cardinal who has the final say. Independent commissions take up the burden of these decisions and ought to be seriously considered in Boston and other dioceses.

Secrecy and lack of lay participation helped get Law into deep trouble when he transferred accused priests from parish to parish without considering the harm they were doing to the youngest and most vulnerable lay people. Law's ability to lead is so compromised that we on this page and a majority of Catholics in the archdiocese think he should resign.

The Vatican is itself not known for policies of full disclosure, and the meeting this week will be for clerics only, but officials there are sensibly offering daily press briefings to provide some feedback to the world outside its walls and, we hope, from it.

Law established his own sounding boards in 1989 - a finance committee, a priests' council, and an Archdiocesan Pastoral Council, composed of priests and lay people. So far they have not had an impact on the abuse scandal. These consultative groups need to be energized to restore the finances of the archdiocese and, more important, to engage priests and lay people alike in rebulding confidence in the institutions of Catholicism in Boston.

The cardinals and the Vatican will be considering whether to establish a common policy on sexual abuse in the United States. This is a sensible idea, but the details are best worked out at the US bishops' meeting in June. They ought to include a strong role for lay members of the church.

One issue at the Vatican is whether priests who have abused youngsters many years ago and never again since should be allowed to continue in parish work. These cases must be weighed carefully on an individual basis, but the decisions can no longer be made secretly by a bishop and his immediate aides. The laity must be involved as well, perhaps through a diocesan council as well as more specialized panels on sexual abuse. By sharing power in matters that deeply concern lay members of the church, the cardinals and other bishops will find that their own ability to lead is enhanced.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 4/22/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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