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  A Boston Globe Editorial  

Vatican's muffled voice


Statement released by church
Letter released by US cardinals

 Related stories
Cardinals offer policy on abuse
Analysis: Some left disappointed
Lay leaders express optimism

THE STATEMENTS issued yesterday at the Vatican provided incomplete advice to US bishops as they devise a policy regarding sexually abusive priests. These were very much documents written within the clerical culture, and they failed to address the crisis of confidence among the laity that is most acutely expressed in the Boston Archdiocese.

The Vatican and the US cardinals, ending their extraordinary emergency meeting in Rome, offered expressions of sympathy to the victims of sexual abuse and their families. The rest of the laity were left with a day of prayer and penance to be announced later.

Many lay Catholics might wonder what they need to be penitent about, since this scandal was not caused by them but by the failure of bishops, notably Cardinal Bernard F. Law, to keep abusive priests from preying on children.

''The sexual abuse of minors is rightly considered a crime by society,'' the final communique notes. Yet there is no mention of how church leaders might assist civil authorities in bringing abusers to justice and no support for a mandatory reporting requirement like that about to be signed into law in Massachusetts that would force bishops to report priests suspected of abuse to law enforcement officials.

In a companion letter to priests, the cardinals said, ''We regret that episcopal oversight has not been able to preserve the church from scandal.'' That's extraordinarily measured language to describe the repeated rejection of abuse complaints, the quiet shifting of priests from parish to parish, and the campaign to conceal knowledge of abuse from public view.

Nor was there any mention of the calls for greater openness coming from many lay people and priests. Instead, the communique focused on the need to keep close watch on the seminaries and on ''individuals who spread dissent and groups which advance ambiguous approaches to pastoral care.''

The cardinals and the Vatican did not adopt a zero-tolerance policy for abusive priests. Instead, they favor a new code to dismiss ''notorious'' repeat offenders. The US bishops should be tougher than that. They need to adopt a strict and transparent national policy for all offenders - a policy endorsed and monitored by the laity.

Neither of these documents suggests an openness to such involvement. US bishops in their meeting in June need to make the laity a key element in decision-making on sexual abuse across the country.

If the cardinals and the Vatican were open to the voices of the laity, they would hear the pleas from many Catholics in the Boston Archdiocese that Law resign immediately. We on this page agree. This scandal has destroyed his ability to function as a church leader here.

Pope John Paul II asked American Catholics on Tuesday to ''stay close to their priests and bishops.'' Many Catholics in the Boston area will wonder how this is possible when a bishop has betrayed their trust.

This story ran on page A14 of the Boston Globe on 4/25/2002.
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