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Spotlight Report

  James E. Post  

O'Malley needs to make peace


TODAY IS the first anniversary of Cardinal Bernard Law's refusal to accept funds raised by Voice of the Faithful through its charitable fund, the Voice of Compassion. In announcing his decision, the cardinal accused sponsors of trying to interfere with the traditional relationship between the bishop and the people's money.

No matter that the Cardinal's Appeal had achieved less than half of its goal because of the scandal involving his deliberate coverup of clergy sexual abuse. Law tried to define the laity as the problem. In the end, it was one of his greatest mistakes. The July 22 announcement set in motion a sequence of words and actions that sharply divided priests and laity throughout the archdiocese and helped create the toxic environment that eventually led to Law's resignation as archbishop.

One year later - almost to the day - Bishop Sean O'Malley, a Franciscan, is faced with the challenge of working for a climate of peace. What will it take to do so? In the prayer of St. Francis, the petitioner calls on God to help him/her be a peacemaker: ''Make me an instrument of Thy peace.... Where there is hatred, let me sow love.''

Peacemakers typically confront parties who no longer trust one another. This is the case when one looks at the relationship between victims of clergy sexual abuse and the institutional church. While the spotlight rightly shines on how more than 500 lawsuits brought by victims of alleged clergy sexual abuse will be resolved, O'Malley, as peacemaker, must recognize the root causes that produced this crisis. The forthcoming attorney general's report is a place to start.

How will the church - the living church - acknowledge the abuses of power that permitted sexual abuse to occur and to be concealed? How will it correct the injury done, respond to those who were hurt, and incorporate the lessons learned from this tragedy into the living church of Boston? How will the peacemaker convince the clergy and laity of the archdiocese that he is ready to pay the price to achieve peace? O'Malley might take a lesson from another great peacemaker.

Like St. Francis, Mahatma Gandhi offers an instructive model of peacemaking. Confronted with violent disputes among Hindu and Muslim factions in postcolonial India, Gandhi began a life-threatening fast. Days passed into weeks, and slowly the violence subsided, neither side wanting to be the ''cause'' of Gandhi's death. But Gandhi would not end his fast. Asked what would convince him that peace was at hand, Gandhi responded: ''Make me believe.''

At his first press conference July 1, Archbishop-designate O'Malley referred to his mission akin to the command St. Francis heard in his time, ''Repair my church.'' But how? Can we, the people of Boston, like Gandhi's people, convince O'Malley that our desire to heal is real?

Here are six steps to help the process of healing the Archdiocese of Boston:

Invite the involvement of all clergy and laity. The job is too big, too formidable for one man alone. Be humble and seek the help of all persons of good will.

Acknowledge the deep divisions among and between clergy, laity, and survivors. This fractured diocese needs healing; healing begins with recognizing the truth.

Don't play favorites. There are factions among every group - laity, clergy, and survivors. Since the disputes are about human administration of the church, not doctrine, there is no reason to perpetuate divisive bans against the use of church facilities for meetings. Evenhanded leadership is essential to healing.

Be transparent. Sunlight is essential to rebuilding trust in a failed institution. Open the books, publish the audits, and hold public hearings on the financial state of the archdiocese.

Be patient. We are a work in process, and it is unlikely that the venomous mistrust that has grown in past years will evaporate quickly.

Pray. Do it in private, do it in public. The more people you enlist in prayerful steps to address this crisis, the better the chance of effecting change.

Nothing has been more destructive to the morale and faith of ordinary Catholics than the behavior of their bishops. One year ago, Cardinal Law mistakenly blamed the laity. This year, O'Malley's great challenge is to make us believe that his call for peace is genuine. Blessed be the peacemaker.

James E. Post, a professor of management at Boston University, is president and a cofounder of Voice of the Faithful.

This story ran on page A13 of the Boston Globe on 7/22/2003.
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