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Spotlight Report

  Brian McGrory  

The apologies aren't enough


If you were a kid coming of age in the East Weymouth of the 1970s, then you were undoubtedly touched in some fine way by Father Jack Schatzel.

Schatzel, among other duties, ran the Immaculate Conception parish center, a cavernous hall with a polished basketball court that served as the stage for countless adolescent dreams.

Kids flocked to the center, and Father Jack was always there to greet us, working the scoreboard, giving us the needle, impatiently holding the doors open late so we could finish our final game. He knew everyone and everyone knew him, and the alternative to playing basketball was hanging out at the railroad tracks doing things that I wouldn't write of here.

They're everywhere, these good and decent men. Father William McCarthy built Father Bill's Place in Quincy, a shelter that feeds and houses homeless men and women nightly. Father Tom McDonnell is the heart of the St. Augustine's Food Pantry in South Boston. When he's not feeding the poor, he's raising money for handicapped children. Father Bill Haley celebrates 50 years as a priest this Sunday, a span in which he rescued his church in Holliston and infused the parish with AA programs and the like.

These good men have something in common: They come to the aid of the most vulnerable in society -- the ill, the hungry, the hopelessly poor -- and they do this without regard to the religion of those in need.

But now there's a taint, a suspicion cast over anyone of the cloth, fueled by daily headlines of a pedophilic priest and a collection of church leaders that did nothing of consequence to stop him.

John J. Geoghan is a criminal in a priest's collar, a relentless predator who victimized the neediest children he could find, again and again and again. He scarred his prey for life and tore entire families, even communities, asunder.

But the damage he caused, while immense, has limits. Not so for Cardinal Law, Law's immediate underlings, and his predecessors. The long-term damage, the shaken faith they caused in coddling Geoghan, is profound.

For that reason, there are many saying that Law should resign, and their arguments, though obvious, are noteworthy. If a government official, educator, or business leader had made choices as flawed as the cardinal, they would have been ousted long ago. With authority comes responsibility, a point even Kenneth Lay of Enron has taken to heart.

Of course, Law apologized again yesterday, once more acknowledging that he "made mistakes" and had "flawed policies." Casual observers might sense a pattern to his contrition. The Globe publishes a damning story, the cardinal appears before the press to express sorrow and offer new hope. On and on we go, but always with the question: Where was he last month, last year, last decade?

Here's where. He was aiding a priest who was alleged to have raped boys, mostly from poor families. He was fighting to conceal church documents from public view. And he was putting St. Julia parish and the people of Weston and Waltham in peril, not just once, but twice.

Catholic doctrine says we need to forgive Geoghan, which is fine, especially after he's hauled off to jail.

But Law? It's now stunningly clear that his allegiance wasn't to his flock, but to himself and the hierarchy. He was afraid of controversy and publicity, and that fear drove him to reassign Geoghan rather than defrock him.

These weren't mistakes, or bad decisions, or flawed policies, as Law calls them. No, they represent a fundamental disregard for the people -- the rank and file parishioners -- who put their trust in the Catholic Church and sought its help.

I was taught that the church is a refuge for those who need one most, a selfless institution led by the Father Jacks and Father Bills of the world.

With Law around, that's impossible. It's time for him to go.

Brian McGrory's e-mail address is

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 1/25/2002.
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