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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

The Cardinal's rebuff


CARDINAL BERNARD Law's rejection of faithful Catholics who want to support the church's charitable activities but not through the archdiocesan hierarchy was remarkable for its clumsiness, even more so for the way it mirrored the church posture earlier this year that alienated so many parishioners.

As with the ongoing sex abuse scandal, church leaders showed far greater concern for their own hierarchy than for the people affected by their actions.

As of late yesterday the archdiocese had softened its stance somewhat, and a spokesman, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, said it had no objection to direct individual contributions, only to those funneled through lay groups such as the newly active Voice of the Faithful. Still, Steve Krueger, the interim executive director of that group, said it hoped ''the archdiocese may be open to a more collaborative approach.''

The issue arose Monday when the archdiocese rejected an offer from Voice of the Faithful to contribute money directly to church schools, ministries, hospitals, and other agencies rather than through the archdiocesan funds administered by Law. According to Coyne, the offer ''does not recognize the role of the archbishop and his responsibility in providing for the various programs and activities of the church.''

But the church's stance did not recognize the plight of thousands of Catholics who believe fervently in the work of the church but have been alienated by the local church leadership.

As Krueger put it, ''It is not our intent or our desire to embarrass anybody.... Our focus has been on the people who benefit from the ministries and programs of the archdiocese.''

This is why the response of the church hierarchy is so hard to understand. Naturally, any powerful institution reflexively resists any curtailment of its power. But in this case the existence of a great many Catholics disaffected with church leaders is undeniable. To forbid these people to band together and make contributions through a lay group invites the conclusion that the welfare of the hospital patients, parochial school students, and thousands of other beneficiaries of services provided by the church is of only secondary concern at Lake Street.

Sexual abuse and the church's capacity to continue its social good works are two major issues. Overriding both is the relationship of the church hierarchy to the laity. Church leaders, in Krueger's view, ''believe they need to regain our trust; we feel they need to trust us for the first time.''

This week's disagreement - over charitable works, of all things - demonstrates the depth of the differences between the archdiocese and many of its members and underlines the need for two-way trust.

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 7/25/2002.
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