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Spotlight Report

  Brian McGrory  

A costly crisis


The cardinal is in hiding, and the future of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston is in a frightening state of flux.

These days, just one thing rings true and clear. As church officials try to buy time in how they deal with criminal priests and the powers that harbored them, that time, at the moment, doesn't come very cheap.

To the contrary, the price is maddeningly high. Every day that the cardinal remains at a job he is unqualified to hold, every day that he offers absurd excuses like ''inadequate'' record keeping for his flagrant disregard for the flock, every day that the pope utters forgettable public platitudes to the thousands of victims of his priests, the church and this city suffer yet another day of profound loss.

And not just an ethereal loss. No, the Catholic Church in Boston is undergoing a loss of charity, a deficit so potentially severe that the cardinal - through his inaction - is on the brink of creating a new set of victims every bit as defenseless as the boys and young men who were ravaged and raped.

These new victims are the desperately poor and chronically sick, for years the recipients of Catholic largesse. You see, all across Eastern Massachusetts, corporations, foundations, and prospective everyday donors are closing their checkbooks on the cardinal and any charities associated with him.

The Cardinal's Appeal, by some estimates, is down 50 percent, from $16 million collected last year to just $8 million now. His ambitious $300 million fund-raising drive has stalled in its tracks. And at Catholic Charities, an independent agency outside of the church hierarchy, support for its Spring Appeal was down an estimated 10 percent last month. Separately, the same group saw $800,000 in expected gifts jettisoned in the last couple of weeks by donors who said they could no longer justify giving to a Catholic cause - not, anyway, while the cardinal is around.

''We haven't yet come to grips with what we'll have to cut,'' says Maureen March, a spokeswoman for Catholic Charities, the second largest provider of social services in Massachusetts (the state is the first). Then she adds, ''But there will be some significant harm to the poor.''

Picture, if you will, this split-screen scenario of the unfolding scandal. On one side, there is the unrepentant cardinal, cloistered in his mansion on a hill overlooking Commonwealth Avenue, surrounded by nuns who cook his food and clean his clothes. Not only does he refuse to address the public, but these days he won't even say Sunday Mass.

On the other side, there is the nearby Seton Manor in Brighton. It is where two dozen men and women infected with the HIV virus or in the midst of full-blown AIDS live out their lives. They were homeless addicts before they came through those modest doors, society's outcasts, but there they are given not only treatment, not just comfort, but dignity.

Now, with Catholic Charities looking for cuts, Seton Manor is potentially on the block. Imagine, as the cardinal blesses yet another home-cooked meal, a homeless AIDS patient may be put out on the street.

If Seton Manor isn't cut, then maybe it will be the St. Patrick's emergency shelter in Somerville, where 35 to 40 homeless women eat and sleep every night of the week, with help from Catholic Charities. Or perhaps it will be the St. Ambrose Family Inn in Dorchester, which gives job training to parents and helps them find homes.

What's even more frustrating is that all over this city, potential donors are waiting, pen in hand, to write checks for $20 or $20,000 that will allow these charities to fulfill their mission. But they won't, not until the cardinal is gone.

You've heard the saying that talk is cheap. But this silence, this unacceptable inaction, carries costs that are tough for any decent person to imagine.

For the sake of the church, for its victims, and for the poor, it is time for this cardinal to go.

Brian McGrory can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2002.
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