Back to homepage Arts | Entertainment Boston Globe Online BostonWorks Real Estate Sports digitalMass Travel The Boston Globe Spotlight Investigation Abuse in the Catholic Church
HomePredator priestsScandal and coverupThe victimsThe financial costOpinion
Cardinal Law and the laityThe church's responseThe clergyInvestigations and lawsuits
Interactive2002 scandal overviewParish mapExtrasArchivesDocumentsAbout this site
2014 update

Crux, a Catholic news site

A new site from the Boston Globe includes news updates on clergy abuse and other Catholic issues.
 Latest coverage

April 23
Editorial: Room for BC

March 6
Op-Ed: Give laity role in church
Op-Ed: ...but they have one

February 28, 2004
Editorial: Toll of church abuse

January 9, 2004
Editorial: Keeping faith

December 29
Editorial: When churches close

December 14
Essay: A new passing

December 6
Editorial: A humbler church

November 4
Vennochi: The blame game

September 27
Op-Ed: O'Malley needs support

September 22
Walker: Children must be first

September 10
Editorial: Serious settlement

September 7
McNamara: A back-page death

September 5
McGrory: Gov. can do better

August 29
Op-Ed: Geoghan's 'innocence'

August 25
Editorial: One more victim

August 12
Editorial: O'Malley's gesture

Earlier stories

Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

The cardinal's test


THE QUESTION OF Cardinal Bernard Law's continued leadership of an archdiocese racked by the widening scandal of child sex abuse is a concern not only for Boston-area Catholics but also for the civic and political leaders who work closely with Law to advance important matters of public policy. Several have recently come to the cardinal's aid, for Law actually holds two positions: as the heirarchical leader of 2 million Catholics in Greater Boston and as a moral voice on public social issues, even for non-Catholics, through out New England.

The church's reverence for life and belief in the dignity of the poor manifest themselves in an activist commitment to social justice. From affordable housing to the death penalty to abortion to better relations with Cuba, Law's role in the public sphere has been significant. The Globe agrees with the church's position on some of these issues and disagrees on others. But so long as the Boston archdiocese and its leader are caught up in scandal, their ability to move any of them forward remains frozen.

Since January, when the Globe first reported the extent of child sexual abuse among priests in the Boston archdiocese, the cardinal -- belatedly and under pressure -- has struggled to address the wrongs committed. He has brought law enforcement authorities the names of some 80 priests accused of sexually molesting minors. He has lifted official opposition to a bill that would make clergy mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse, albeit with an exemption for pastoral counseling.

But it is a mistake to assume that these actions are sufficient to address the extent of disillusion with both the cardinal and the church, even among Catholics.

It is now known that church leaders turned a blind eye for years to the suffering of innocent children while they wrapped a veil of confidentiality and silence around unspeakable crimes. For years the church chose its own welfare over the well-being of its flock. These priorities are shockingly distorted.

Perhaps more than the names of pedophile priests or Law's plans for special advisory commissions, the public has the right to know the answers to deeper questions. What is it about the beliefs and culture of the church and its hierarchy that would make it more important to protect the institution than to protect the children? What explains the contradiction between its mighty causes and its evasive actions? What fundamental changes are needed, beyond better screening of applicants to the seminary and eviction of priestly offenders?

Forty-eight percent of local Catholics told the Globe and WBZ-TV in a recent poll that the cardinal should resign. The Catholic Church is central to many lives and should remain so. But if these questions are not fully aired in a public dialogue and steps taken to address the root causes of clerical abuse, it will matter little who the archbishop is.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 2/21/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

© Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Advertise | Contact us | Privacy policy