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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

Law's responsibility


ON THE FEAST of Pentecost last weekend, Cardinal Bernard F. Law demonstrated once again why he should resign as archbishop of Boston. The sexual abuse scandal continues to mushroom and has irretrievably damaged his standing as a spiritual leader.

Pentecost commemorates the day that Jesus' disciples first publicly proclaimed their faith in his resurrection. The cardinal ought to have been able to move freely around the archdiocese to celebrate the feast and to receive an honorary degree from Hellenic College, a Greek Orthodox institution, as a gesture of interdenominational solidarity.

Because of the scandal, Law declined the degree and confined his ministry to the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. And he released a letter defending his decision to appoint the Rev. Paul Shanley as pastor of St. John the Evangelist in Newton, better known as St. Jean's.

The cardinal went beyond his earlier excuse of inadequate record-keeping to explain why he promoted Shanley even though the priest's personnel file contained allegations of sexual abuse and reports of a sexual philosophy deeply at odds with the church.

''It did not enter into my mind to second-guess my predecessors,'' Law said, implicitly criticizing Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, who first assigned Shanley to St. Jean's.

''I assure you that my first knowledge of an allegation of sexual abuse against this priest was in 1993,'' Law wrote, thus blaming personnel aides for allowing Shanley to work in a California parish in the early 1990s without relaying allegations about his past.

''I am certain that as time goes on, fresh revelations concerning cases will necessitate some explanation on the part of the archdiocese,'' Law said in his letter. Indeed, Law will have to explain why the Very Rev. Daniel Graham was promoted to supervise 19 parishes south of Boston in 1996 even though he admitted to sexual misconduct. This information comes in a deposition by one of the cardinal's aides. Law's time over the coming months will be dominated by questioning and letters of explanation to skeptical Catholics. He cannot do the work of an archbishop when he is shadow-boxing with lawyers.

On a more positive note, the cardinal's commission on abuse policies released guidelines last week that offer the prospect of independent lay review. Boston College announced that it will begin a program of lectures and seminars this fall in response to the scandal.

''The work we must do together is being hampered by the division which bewilderment, hurt, distrust and anger have sown,'' the cardinal said. Whatever the responsibility of others, he cannot escape his central role in the scandal. However admirable the efforts of Boston College and the commission, Law casts a shadow over the church in Boston, and he can remove it only by his departure.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 5/21/2002.
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