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April 23
Editorial: Room for BC

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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

Losing faith in Law


REVELATIONS THIS WEEK in the case of the Rev. Paul Shanley eliminate any hope that the leadership of the Archdiocese of Boston can restore its credibility. Documents from the church itself, released under court order, show definitively that church officials were aware of Shanley's predatory sexual practices with young boys in his charge over a period of decades and did almost nothing about it.

Despite repeated warnings of Shanley's depravity, the archdiocese took only evasive action, shifting him to a Newton parish, placing him on sick leave, and finally shunting him off to a California parish with a note from Bishop Robert J. Banks, top deputy to Cardinal Bernard Law, certifying that Shanley was ''a priest in good standing.''

But Shanley is not the least of it, as the stunning investigation by the Globe Spotlight Team has shown. A pattern of denial, obfuscation, payoff, and coverup by the archdiocese has been exposed, revealing an incomprehensible web of pain involving nearly 100 priests. Even these latest revelations became public only as result of lawsuits brought by victims against the church.

The abusive priests have left perhaps hundreds of victims. If what is known clinically about sexual abuse obtains here, some of those victims have now begun their own cycles of abuse, preying on another generation. The widening church scandal is also a widening circle of abuse that will continue its terrible echoes for lifetimes.

The scourge of clerical abuse is not unique to Boston. Similar allegations have surfaced recently in New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, Providence, and Maine. Earlier this month a senior bishop in Ireland, Brendan Comiskey, resigned after admitting he had not done enough to protect children from a predatory priest. ''I now realize that I am not the person who can best bring about the aims of unity and reconciliation,'' he said.

Similarly, Cardinal Law has become an obstacle to reform. Since the Globe first revealed the extent of child sexual abuse by clergy in January, Law has apologized for poor judgment and turned over to law enforcement officials the names of nearly 100 priests against whom credible allegations of abuse have been made. He appointed a 15-member special commission to advise him on reforms.

But Law has never launched the necessary public examination of the church's culture, tradition, and leadership that for so many years caused it to misgauge its priorities by placing the reputation of the church above the welfare of the children. This despite a convocation on March 10 with some 3,000 members of parish councils and other lay leaders - some of Boston's most devout Catholics - who told Law they want sweeping changes, particularly an examination of how power and secrecy have damaged the church. The latest disclosures erode the moral authority of Law either to pronounce on public issues or to carry out his spiritual responsibilities.

In a letter to parishioners sent on Good Friday, Law said the church had been betrayed by abusive priests whom he likened to Judas, but he said nothing of how the victims and their families have been betrayed by the church hierarchy, which ignored, denied, or minimized their anguished charges. He has never acknowledged that this was a serious moral failing - the sin of pride in the church's importance over that of its flock and in his own certitude as its leader.

Over the past three months, the community had hoped that Law could lead the church through this crisis. But now he is trapped. He has lost the credibility to put through the serious reforms that are called for. And for him to declare it is time to turn the page on the scandal would only appear self-serving.

On Easter Sunday, flanked by bodyguards as he entered his own parish, the cardinal said: ''The church is not a political institution, it is not a sociological institution, it is a community of faith.'' Just so. Law cannot ignore that too large a portion of the community has lost its faith in his leadership. Cardinal Law should resign.

This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 4/10/2002.
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