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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

A bankrupt archdiocese?


FACED WITH claims that could exceed $100 million, the Archdiocese of Boston may seek safety in Chapter 11 of the US Bankruptcy Code. While this process plays out, it is important to remember that hundreds of alleged victims of clergy sexual abuse had nowhere to turn for shelter in a powerful church that demanded their faithfulness - and their silence.

The bankruptcy option rankles. With its credibility battered, the archdiocese is burdened with proving this is not another delaying tactic or negotiating ploy. In Dallas, archdiocese officials faced with similar allegations used a similar appeal to pare down costly settlements. In Boston, however, with real estate holdings in excess of $1.3 billion, insolvency is a harder sell.

It is understandably difficult for the public to differentiate a sincere desire to protect funds for the good works of the church from a wily gambit. How could it be otherwise in an institution where church higher-ups shuttled predatory priests from parish to parish. Or where Cardinal Bernard Law endorsed a settlement of between $15 million and $30 million for the victims of former priest John J. Geoghan and then reneged on the deal a few months later - after it became clear he could not avoid a deposition in a different case.

Law and his advisers may genuinely believe that bankruptcy court is the most expeditious route to a fair settlement for the roughly 450 people who have pressed sexual abuse claims against the archdiocese this year alone. Filing for bankruptcy would impose a deadline, and archdiocese officials would be free to deal with the hundreds of alleged victims as one class. It's efficient.

The clergy sexual abuse scandal, however, does not cry out for easy resolution. It calls out for justice. The focus belongs on the victims, and while some might benefit from bankruptcy proceedings, other would likely feel brushed aside yet again. The best insights into the victimization process would be revealed in civil court proceedings for all to see. Bankruptcy eliminates the possibility of such trials and draws a shade, once again, on a culture of denial, abuse, and complicity.

Chapter 11 can make sense for a business. But the Boston Archdiocese should stand for a higher cause than profit. A bankruptcy filing by the Boston Archdiocese would put it in the company of WorldCom and other failed corporations where values and principles meant nothing.

Law has said he wants to remain as cardinal in order to help close the wounds inflicted during his tenure. But he can only do more harm by pushing the clergy sexual abuse scandal into the bloodless domain of bankruptcy court.

This story ran on page A20 of the Boston Globe on 12/3/2002.
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