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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

Bishop Lennon's role


BISHOP RICHARD G. Lennon showed great caution at his press conference yesterday, as befits the interim leader of an archdiocese that has been at the center of the clergy sexual abuse scandal. But he will need to make tough decisions as apostolic administrator, and these decisions ought to be unequivocally on the side of helping the victims and preventing further instances of sexual abuse by priests.

Lennon showed a willingness to settle the lawsuits filed by those who allege abuse, going so far as to suggest that the sale of church property will be necessary. He is right to want to settle the case expeditiously to lift a burden from the victims and allow the archdiocese to move forward in the knowledge that it has made redress for great wrongdoing.

He also endorsed the policies of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, which were approved by the Vatican after revisions that emphasized the power of bishops and the role of canon law. The national policies may be adequate for dioceses that have not been touched directly by the scandal, but stronger measures are needed in Boston. While Lennon had praise for the Commission for the Protection for Children, which was established by Cardinal Bernard Law to set new policies against abuse, he did not endorse its recommendations yesterday. They include the establishment of powerful lay boards that would help victims and oversee the implementation of policies to prevent abuse.

The Archdiocese of Boston, under the leadership of Cardinal Law, covered up the scandal until confronted by the victims, the legal system, and the press. The archdiocesan hierarchy in Boston cannot be trusted to police itself on matters of abuse. If Lennon wants to put this scandal to rest, he needs to establish boards of expert lay people that are unambiguously autonomous.

Catholic Charities, a semiautonomous agency, this week accepted a $56,035 donation from Voice of the Faithful, an independent organization established by lay Catholics in response to the scandal. Lennon affirmed an archdiocesan policy against such donations but indicated that he would not require Catholic Charities to return the gift.

The board of Catholic Charities was right to accept the money. The needs of the poor outweigh the worries of archdiocesan leaders about the establishment of independent organizations within the church. Lennon was wise to accede to the board's decision. Any further donations by Voice of the Faithful to Catholic Charities should be accepted without archdiocesan criticism.

Lennon made a plea for unity in the archdiocese, but this should not become a synonyn for autocracy or coverup. As an interim leader, Lennon is in a difficult position. He needs to settle the scandal, establish policies that will guard against abuse, and nurture communication with lay people as he and all Catholics in the area await the appointment of a permanent archbishop.

This story ran on page A22 of the Boston Globe on 12/19/2002.
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