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April 23
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Spotlight Report

  Brian McGrory  

A time for boldness


This is not a time for the timid. The people of Boston, Catholic and otherwise, need the next archbishop to arrive in this city like a cleansing summer storm. It's a time to be radical, not incremental, a time to be swift, not slow, a time for inclusion rather than the exclusion that has characterized too much of the recent past.

If it's Bishop Sean O'Malley who is appointed to the Boston post this morning, terrific. It would be the most sensible move the Vatican has made since this paper exposed the breadth of the church sex scandal last year.

But even O'Malley must understand that every day of inaction is another day of squandered good will, and the Catholic Church can't afford to shed even one more precious drop.

To that end, some advice to the next archbishop, compiled from various quarters around town.

First, study your predecessor, Cardinal Law. Take note of his ministerial style and personal manner, his actions and interests -- and then take the exact opposite tack in virtually everthing you do.

Law was imperious, his eye cast less toward his flock in Boston than to his shepherds in Rome. He seemed to be on a years-long campaign for a job that he would never get, with Boston representing a stop of convenience along the way.

Parish priests never got to know him. Parishioners rarely saw him. Church activists were aggressively spurned by him.

Understand, people are anxious for all sorts of reasons. They're still anxious about the country being attacked by people they're unable to understand. They're anxious about war and an uneasy peace. They're anxious about the stock market, about the economy, about their jobs, about their lives.

Amid it all, when the church has been needed the most, it's been there the least, adding to, not easing, those anxieties.

So settle the cases with the hundreds of victims of predatory priests, and settle them with sincerity and empathy, because, as Thomas P. O'Neill III said yesterday, ''To ask for forgiveness means you need to do something redemptive.''

Even better, sell the archbishop's house on Lake Street, along with the archdiocesan offices and all the property that goes with it. Sell it to Boston College, which has been coveting the land for years, and take the tens of millions of dollars in proceeds and make sure the victims are amply paid.

As a Capuchin friar, O'Malley has taken a vow of poverty, so he would be fulfilling his chosen course to move to modest space in any number of vacant convents or rectories around Boston. The local headlines would be lauding, and the tremors of good will would carry to every corner of the country and beyond.

Regardless of where you're living, get out of your house. Visit Father Tom McDonnell at his food pantry at St. Augustine's in South Boston. Visit Father Bill McCarthy at his homeless shelter in Quincy. Pay a call on Sister Mary Dooley at her Mother Caroline Academy in the heart of Dorchester.

Reinvigorate the rank and file priests, themselves the unsung victims of the church crisis. Give them voice and purpose and appreciation. The damage is too big to fix alone.

Embrace the laity. The Voice of the Faithful wants to meet in the church basement? Give them their own keys. They have tens of thousands of dollars in contributions? Welcome the help with an open hand. You need a broad base of parishioners who feel invested in their church for Catholics to carry on their core mission: aiding those in need.

The truth is, the situation is a relatively easy one, mostly because the mistakes have been so mind-numbingly obvious. The church needs you to succeed. Millions of people in Massachusetts want you to succeed.

Be bold, be fast, and be smart. Redemption should be easy, provided the church understands all the sins of the recent past.

Brian McGrory's e-mail address is

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 7/1/2003.
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