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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

The Cardinal's oath


CARDINAL BERNARD F. Law, in the video transcript of his testimony released this week, compared the questioning he was undergoing to a trial. The testimony was a deposition in a civil lawsuit. But, of course, the cardinal is on trial - in the court of public opinion - and his standing among Catholics is so diminished that he can no longer lead the archdiocese effectively.

''I did not, as a matter of policy, in 1984, '85, '86, '87, '88, '89, '90, '91, '92, '93, '94, '95, '96, '97, '98, '99, 2000, 2001, go to parishes on the occasion of dealing with a priest against whom an allegation of sexual abuse of a child had been made,'' he said under questioning by attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr.

During all that time his policy was to suppress allegations of sexual misconduct if possible and quietly transfer or retire the priest. His brushoff of the Nash family, reported in the Globe this week, was typical. The cardinal dismissed the assertion that the Rev. Anthony J. Rebeiro had sexually assaulted Mrs. Nash, saying in a letter to the anguished couple that ''this matter is personal to Father Rebeiro and must be considered as such.''

The cardinal in his testimony said he left personnel isues to his subordinates. Their decisions to shield accused sexual abusers accurately reflected his longstanding views. Law did not act on an allegation of abuse early in his career, when he was a diocesan official in Mississippi. He consistently maintained a policy of secrecy until early this year, when public outrage after several Boston Globe articles forced him to change his policy.

The cardinal in his testimony acknowledged that ''the culture for handling those cases ... was wrong.'' That statement is 10 or 15 years too late. It is not reasonable to expect the laity to trust an archbishop who, from 1884 through 2001, put children at risk.

Faced with this abdication of moral leadership, it is not surprising that many Catholics are refusing to contribute to the Cardinal's Appeal even though the Boston Archdiocese will face a financial crisis if it provides adequate compensation to the victims of sexual abuse.

Just last year the cardinal was an able exponent of the Catholic perspective on such issues as affordable housing, Cuba, the death penalty, and abortion. Now his image is that of a witness under hostile questioning.

When WorldCom and other corporations find themselves in deep financial trouble because of unethical practices, the chief executive is expected to resign or be fired, in part to reassure stockholders that the behavior of the company will change. The Catholic hierarchy has made no move to encourage Law to resign, even though his presence in Boston weakens the church. For the sake of the institution to which he has devoted his life, Cardinal Law should make the decision to resign.

This story ran on page A10 of the Boston Globe on 8/17/2002.
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