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Editorial: Room for BC

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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

Cardinal's duty


BISHOP ROBERT J. Banks has left Boston. So have Archbishop Alfred C. Hughes, Bishop Thomas V. Daily, and Bishop John B. McCormack. Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros has been dead for 19 years. Of all the leading church figures implicated in the coverup of clerical abuse newly revealed this week, only Cardinal Bernard F. Law remains in the Boston Archdiocese, and his determination to continue as archbishop undermines the Catholic Church's standing in Boston.

Without Law, it would be easier to address the financial crisis caused by the lawsuits filed by people who say they have been sexually abused by priests. Many Catholics would end their informal financial boycott of archdiocesan programs, and new leadership would be better able to tap the energy of lay Catholics to resolve the crisis in ways that are fair to the victims yet supportive of the church's philanthropic and religious activities.

If Law were no longer in power, there would be much less friction with activist lay and clerical groups, who feel deeply estranged from his leadership. A new archbishop would also be able to expound Catholic positions on social issues to the wider community - a role for which Law has lost moral credibility.

Over the last several weeks, Law has elevated his public profile and sought to make amends to victims of sexual abuse. ''I have the pain of someone who made terrible mistakes and caused you pain,'' he said before a victims group in October.

Isolated mistakes did not bring on the crisis. Rather, it was a matter of deliberate policy, under Medeiros and Law, to cover up wrongdoing by priests, including sexual abuse, drug use, or assault. This is made plain by the 2,200 pages of church documents released Tuesday.

In his deposition in the Paul R. Shanley case, Law tried to wriggle out of responsibility for the cover-up. Even though he delegated much of the work to Daily, Banks, McCormack, and other subordinates, his imprint is all over the policy. By the mid-1980s, when victims were beginning to disclose their past history of abuse, Law through his secretary brushed off a letter requesting a meeting with a person alleging abuse by Shanley and two other priests. The message was clear: The church must be kept free of scandal even if it meant putting young people at risk.

Law, in his meeting with victims, said he would resign if the pope requested it. In the deposition he said, ''My mission is to try to see that the church does the right thing in the right way.''

The pope is aging and infirm, and the Vatican perhaps does not grasp the impact of the abuse scandal at its epicenter in Boston. Law has a personal responsibility to do whatever he can to repair the grievous damage already done to the archdiocese. His resignation would be the right thing to do.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 12/5/2002.
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