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Spotlight Report

  Derrick Z. Jackson  

Law and disorder


THERE IS NO longer any doubt that Cardinal Bernard Law himself is a sick man.

In his gushing 1996 letter to the retiring Rev. Paul Shanley, Law wrote: ''For thirty years in assigned ministry you brought God's word and his love to his people, and I know that that continues to be your goal despite some difficult limitations. This is an impressive record and all of us are truly grateful for your priestly care and ministry to all whom you have served during those years. Without a doubt over all of these years of generous and zealous care, the lives and hearts of many people have been touched by your sharing of the Lord's spirit. You are truly appreciated for all that you have done.''

This is what Law wrote, despite accusations against Shanley of child molestation that went back three decades. This is after Shanley's support in the 1970s of ''man-boy'' love. This is after saying that children, not the adults, are the seducers. This is after saying that no sexual act causes psychic damage, ''not even incest or bestiality.''

This was not damaging enough for the archdiocese. Despite writing to the Vatican that Shanley was a ''troubled priest,'' Cardinal Humberto Medeiros shuffled Shanley to a church in Newton in 1979. Despite that history, Law promoted Shanley to pastor in 1985. At that church, Shanley allegedly continued to rape children. His number of accusers now stands at 26. Gregory Ford, one of the alleged Newton victims, said of Shanley: ''In my belief I think he's molested hundreds over his 30-year reign of terror. And I hope you rot (in) hell.''

Law's direct role in fanning the hellfire has turned a catastrophe into an apocalypse. If he had resigned, as he should have, three months ago, his place might merely be the unemployment line or a kick upstairs into the Vatican. Now that he has been exposed as promoting a depraved priest to pastor and exposing countless youths to Shanley's alleged stalking and preying, the question is whether the cardinal should be forced to trade in his red vestments for an orange jumpsuit.

As late as 1997, when Shanley tried to get himself promoted from acting to permanent director of a hostel run by nuns - and which accepted teenagers as guests - Law was prepared to support Shanley. In a draft letter, Law wrote to the late New York Cardinal John O'Connor: ''If you decide to allow Father Shanley to accept this position, I would not object.'' O'Connor was alarmed about Shanley's past and blocked the promotion before Law mailed the letter.

The fact that Law would not stand in the way of Shanley just five years ago puts a lie to everything Law has said since the Globe's Spotlight Team broke the priest abuse scandal wide open. The lie becomes unavoidable if one strings together his statements from news conferences, open letters, and sermons during of the last three months.

''There is no way for me to describe the evil of such acts,'' Law has said. ''All sexual abuse is morally abhorrent. Sexual abuse of minors is particularly abhorrent. Such abuse by clergy adds to the heinous nature of the act. Here in this archdiocese, I promulgated a policy to deal with sexual abuse of minors by clergy. This went into effect on Jan. 15, 1993. I'm no psychiatrist, but given the experience that I have had in these ensuing years and with whatever reading I have done, I have come to the conclusion that no matter what anybody says, that someone who is guilty of this kind of abuse simply cannot be placed in that position of trust. One act of abuse of a minor by a priest is one too many.

''From the perspective of the child, everything that can possibly be done to protect a child from that kind of abuse must be done. I have done that by removing people from assignments. So I feel a closure on this loop. That brings me a great deal of peace, that we are doing absolutely everything we can possibly do, not only in terms of people who are working in the church but [also] people who continue to have a very profound problem. The role of a bishop [is] the role of a pastor, the role of a teacher, the role of a father. I want the archdiocese to become a model for how this issue should be handled. Our singular focus must be the protection of the children.''

That cannot be reconciled with the cardinal who praised Shanley for his ''generous and zealous care,'' depite his ''difficult limitations.'' Law's generous care of Shanley and the zealous deployment of lawyers to fight and silence the victims of abuse should be considered beyond all of our limits of religious and secular civility. That Cardinal Law still parades in his vestments is his own form of indecent exposure, one that needs either a clinic or a criminal court.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is

This story ran on page A23 of the Boston Globe on 4/10/2002.
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