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Spotlight Report

  Joan Vennochi  

Law's total lack of credibility


CARDINAL Bernard Law wants to go to Dallas to demand a tougher policy for dealing with pedophile priests. Why?

He has no credibility here, there, or anywhere on that particular subject.

Court documents released this week provide evidence that Law was directly involved in the reassignment of two accused priests - even though he said in sworn testimony last month that he customarily delegated those decisions to subordinates.

It sure sounds like the cardinal dodged the truth under oath. According to the documents released by lawyers for the victims, he was moving priests from parish to parish with full knowledge of allegations of sexual activity involving children. In one case, Law chose to ignore his own policy for dealing with priests accused of sexual misconduct.

Why should the US Conference of Bishops believe he can contribute anything meaningful to their discussion now?

Here in Boston, Law doesn't try to explain things personally anymore. He dispatches someone else to do it for him.

On Tuesday, a committee of Catholic bishops proposed a mandatory set of procedures that would require American bishops to remove from the priesthood anyone who abuses a minor in the future. The proposal stops short of a so-called ''zero tolerance'' policy and allows for some leeway in old cases where there is a single instance of abuse. It also fails to call for action against bishops - like Law - who failed to remove abusive priests from ministry.

Law's designated spokesman, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, patiently explained the difference between the bishops' proposal and Boston's new, tougher-on-paper policy.

Asked next about documents showing that top officials, including Law, had extensive knowledge of allegations of sexual misconduct by several priests who were allowed to remain in active ministry, Coyne, understandably, had less to say. He said he hadn't seen the documents or talked to Law about them.

Straining gamely for an explanation, he said: ''Once again, it was part of the protective culture of the church that was in existence at the time that sought to not only protect children and their families but, at the same time, to try and protect the church, try and protect the priesthood.''

As Coyne spoke, it was eerily peaceful on the circle of green grass that is the gateway to the Boston chancery. The sun shone brightly on the bank of television cameras and the statue of the Virgin Mary. Wind rustled sweetly through the leaves of swaying shade trees. It muffled the less melodic sound of traffic from nearby Commonwealth Avenue.

What a pleasant, protected island it was for Law. To some degree, it still is.

Asked when the cardinal will personally address current concerns, Coyne said: ''At this point there are no plans for the cardinal himself to come out and speak to the media.''

Why? ''I don't know.''

Along with everything else, the last five months are unsparing in their revelation of Law's selfish view of the world and the church. While he stays out of the fray, the waves of allegations slap, slap, slap away at the foundation of the institution he supposedly loves.

Priests in handcuffs. Parents bitter and weeping. Lawyers snarling and billing.

Speaking as a lapsed, unlapsed, and relapsed again Catholic, the ongoing scandal presents a relentless montage of depressing images. And it all started here in Boston, before spiraling out and down across the country.

From still faithful churchgoers come reports of what it is like at Sunday Mass. Some parish priests are skittish and depressed. Others act as if all is normal.

Some offend by pushing too hard for money. Don't they understand we sinners are just now realizing some of us were confessing to priests whose sins were darker than our own? A sense of betrayal is not a good backdrop to over-zealous fund-raising, no matter how good the cause.

Does Law understand what he unleashed?

If he did, he would know he should say nothing in Dallas, unless he wants to tell the US Conference of Bishops the whole truth about what happened in his archdiocese.

But first, he should do it in Boston.

Joan Vennochi's e-mail address is

This story ran on page A21 of the Boston Globe on 6/6/2002.
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