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Spotlight Report

BC trustee urges curb of Catholic donations

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 9/19/2002

NEWTON - One of Boston's most prominent Catholic philanthropists said last night that he has been withholding financial support from the archdiocese because of his unhappiness over the church's handling of sexually abusive priests, and he suggested other local Catholics consider doing the same.

''The laity controls the oxygen for most of the activities of the church - your money and our money,'' Jack Connors Jr., the chairman and chief executive officer of the advertising firm Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos Inc., said at a forum on the future of the church at Boston College.

''I'm very uncomfortable with those who have decided they're going to stop supporting the activities of the church ... but one part of the temple of power is money, and that's an important asset that needs to be redirected where it's going to do the most good, and for the moment that may be at the local level.''

Connors, a onetime confidant of Cardinal Bernard F. Law and one of the city's most influential power brokers, said in an interview after the forum that he has not given any money to the archdiocese since shortly after the scandal broke in January. He said he has refused to contribute to a $300 million capital campaign being run by the archdiocese, or to the annual Cardinal's Appeal that finances archdiocesan operations. Instead, he has redirected his philanthropy to his parish and to Catholic educational and social service organizations.

Connors was one of five prominent Catholics who spoke at the opening event of a multiyear Boston College program examining the future of Catholicism in the aftermath of the clergy sex abuse scandal. So many people came to the event - Boston College estimated the crowd at 4,000 - that it was moved from a lecture hall to the hockey rink, Conte Forum.

Connors, a Boston College trustee, was once close enough to Law that he was asked to advise the cardinal on how to respond to the crisis earlier this year. But he has become increasingly critical of Law's handling of the crisis, and last night he drew the only standing ovation of the forum when he declared flatly, ''The church must change.''

''I do not have the background or the training to distinguish between pedophilia and ephebophilia,'' he said, referring to different types of sexual abuse, ''but I do have the background to distinguish between right and wrong. The leadership of the archdiocese made a conscious decision to protect priests who were preying on innocent children over a period of many years.''

Connors has not called for Law to resign but made it clear he has little use for the current leadership of the church.

''Those church leaders who have made a series of bad judgments may continue to hold onto their titles, but they will be leaders in title only,'' he said. ''A majority of Catholics are moving forward without them. Witness this crowd.''

The Boston College program launched last night promises to include a series of lectures, courses, and scholarly research on the relationship between lay people, priests, and bishops; on church teachings about sexuality; and on transmitting faith to future generations. Boston College's president, the Rev. William P. Leahy, said he hopes the program will help revitalize the church.

''The current situation calls for healing, and healing requires not only work of the heart, but also work of the mind,'' Leahy said.

''Offending priests and bishops betrayed their commitment to the church and to Catholics who trusted them,'' he said. ''Church leaders made serious errors in the way they dealt with victims, their families, and abusers. Trust between lay men and women and the hierarchy has been seriously eroded in recent months, and many priests who have served faithfully all their lives, especially those in parishes, feel beleaguered and discouraged.''

The keynote speaker last night was Newsweek religion reporter Kenneth L. Woodward, who urged the college to examine a variety of controversial issues, including the ordination of women and married men as priests, even though he said he personally opposes such changes. Woodward did call for the church to consult with laypeople in the selection of bishops, and to replace ''most diocesan officials with lay professionals.''

''It is shocking to realize how much institutional self-delusion prevails in the American church, even more shocking to realize that the bishops, and the Vatican, have been so unwilling to examine, or even to acknowledge, the many disconnects between what is taught and what is believed,'' he said.

But Woodward cautioned against what he characterized as a bias against authority at universities, and called for the college to be ''humbly intellectual rather than arrogantly academic.''

Two Boston College theologians, Lisa Sowle Cahill and Roberto S. Goizueta, responded to Woodward's remarks. Cahill said the sex abuse scandal has created ''a crisis of trust,'' and called for the church to ''revitalize our message'' on sexuality. Goizueta lamented that, as a result of the scandal, the church's voice ''has been grievously undermined.''

Connors's remarks were the most pointed, particularly because they came from a man who had been such a loyalist to the church, and he was interrupted by applause several times.

He was particularly critical of the church's hostility toward open discussion, saying ''the church exercises great power, but that power needs to be directed to serving, teaching, and healing, as opposed to intimidating or silencing.''

''When theologians are silenced, when innocent priests are ousted without an opportunity to defend themselves, when the laity is kept from substantive participation, the church fails to pursue the truth,'' he said. ''We need to open the windows. We need to let some fresh air in, and we need to stop sweeping our secrets under the Orientals.''

Boston College is the region's most prominent Catholic university, and its graduates can be found throughout the pews and the leadership of the local church. The college counts at least 95 local priests among its alumni, as well as more than 500 nuns and six bishops around the country.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

This story ran on page B3 of the Boston Globe on 9/19/2002.
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