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Spotlight Report

  R.T. Neary  

Church will cleanse itself - let Law help


WHILE THE BATTERIES of TV cameras lined up in front of the Boston Archdiocese have provided suspenseful lead-ins for the nightly news, the death watch has failed to deliver the much desired announcement. No resignation of the resident cardinal has been forthcoming, nor should it be.

Cardinal Bernard F. Law is the man most qualified by experience, intelligence, and fortitude to preside over the purification process that is so needed in the Archdiocese of Boston.

Thankfully, I no longer see any attempt by the church to defend its flawed policy toward the handling of the gross misdeeds of those predators who were a subculture in the priestly ranks. It is still baffling to understand how Paul Shanley could become so brazen, or how the archdiocese could have transferred him and John J. Geoghan to other church settings so that they could continue these criminal acts.

But the focus has been switched away from the predators to the cardinal, as though replacing him will restore the pristine quality of the archdiocese. The problem is what he inherited was not what Catholics and others thought it was at that time. There was a festering sore.

Obviously, the sore had existed for some time, hiding behind the wonderful works of many men.

Perhaps the cardinal's greatest error was the acceptance of the counsel and recommendations of advisers and so-called experts in what are clearly inexact sciences. However, accepting Harry S. Truman's adage that ''the buck stops here,'' the cardinal knows the mishandling of the clerical sexual abuse rests squarely with the archdiocese.

Law has expressed his desire to meet with all the victims and their families so that he may aid in the healing process. It has not been made easy for him, however, with the feeding frenzy created by the media from here to Rome.

Personally, I have found much of the rantings of the attorneys suing the archdiocese to be self-serving and sheer stage play.

While the victims' pain can be felt by all of us, much of the legal posturing must end so that we can gain an understanding of how best the victims' needs can be met.

Actions that occurred in the past can not be judged by present knowledge, and these tragic happenings have given us more insight into establishing better screening and preventive systems.

Most of the mental health field is now drawing a distinction between pedophilia and ephebophilia. The overwhelming number of sexual abuse cases in the archdiocese were of the latter category with a priest targeting adolescent males, not prepubescent ones.

Lost in this clerical scandal is the fact that from the day of his arrival and during 18 years in Boston, Law has steadfastly upheld the basic teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. He has actively provided assistance and care for the homeless, those mired in poverty, AIDS sufferers, minorities, the elderly, the handicapped, unwed mothers, their unborn children, and anyone else with a credible need.

His unqualified opposition to ''the primordial evil of abortion'' as well as his defense of traditional marriage has brought him the scorn of demonstrators at many events.

Any student of the Roman Catholic scene in America is aware there has been a movement that is antagonistic toward the Vatican and the church's organizational structure as well as some of its tenets. Many have ready access to the secular media and are exploiting these clerical sexual scandals as symptoms of structural defects. Many perceive it as an opportunity to further an agenda that would cast Roman Catholicism into the current mold of the Episcopal Church.

Opponents of Law have been very vocal on television with their calls for his resignation, but have been relatively muted in the criticism of the accused.

These opponents seem to loathe the voicing of a concept so vital to the teachings of the founder of this religion: forgiveness. Why does it not apply to the cardinal? He is a decent, dedicated man who erred grievously by following a terribly flawed personnel policy, and he has expressed contrition for what damage it has done to innocent youths.

Why do these people not want to allow the cardinal to make amends - to right the wrongs to the maximum degree possible?

This horrendous series of sexual abuses will force the archdiocese to become leaner but cleaner. It will also be stronger as its mettle will have withstood its most severe test.

Law's intentions have always been honorable, and he is not deserving of the treatment he has received. The church has survived two millenia not because of his or any other human's deeds but because of the Spirit who guides it.

And the Holy Spirit has shown no signs of resigning.

R.T. Neary is past president of the Massachusetts Citizens for Life.

This story ran on page A15 of the Boston Globe on 5/4/2002.
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