Sunday, April 14, 2002

More news from Boston: the furies are still hovering over Bernard Cardinal Law. The Boston Herald is reporting for the second straight day that the Cardinal actually tried to tender his resignation to Rome, but was rebuffed. The earlier report said that one reason for the rebuff is that the church is afraid of starting a chain reaction which would topple all the other bishops who have sex scandals of their own to manage; one anonymous official is quoted as worrying that "Suddenly you would have an entire eastern seaboard devoid of Catholic leadership." (How that would differ from the current situation, in which the bishops have been thoroughly discredited, but remain in place, is left as an exercise for the reader).

The hierarchy, crippled by scandal, retains some supporters, but they're getting increasingly scarce; a small item in today's Globe reports that Catholic Charities paid to bus Haitian immigrant supporters, who perhaps aren't up on the news, to Law's masses.

The protesters out in front of Cardinal Law's palatial compound in Brighton with "honk if you think Law should go" signs are paying for their own transportation. But fear not that the Cardinal rests uneasy; having skipped out of his usual Sunday mass, he is reported to be praying for guidance at a secure, undisclosed location.

He has, however, released a letter to priests announcing that he will "continue to serve" as Archbishop "as long as God gives me the opportunity" --- meaning, it is widely believed, until Rome lets him quit. Even the Globe, which is not (yet) reporting the rejected resignation story, sees "the hand of Rome" in it. Whoever wrote the thing certainly is viewing the situation from a distance of some kind. A few highlights. After a pro forma salutation to his fellow priests, Law starts off with this:

The case of Father Paul Shanley is particularly troubling for us. For me personally, it has brought home with painful clarity how inadequate our record keeping has been.

It was in examining the "inadequate" records Law complains of that lawyers for Shanley's victims found, among other things, records of dozens of complaints from (we now deliver the ritual incantation, "alleged") victims, and speeches in favor of adults having sex with children.

This line about "inadequate ... record keeping" is being taken by Catholics around Boston, particularly the victims, as a personal insult. But to me, the deepest insult in the letter isn't that, but rather this:

In an effort to give a pastoral response, we have not taken into sufficient account the criminality involved in abuse. In a desire to encourage victims who might not desire to enter a criminal process to come forward to us, we did not communicate cases to public authorities.

The church settled numerous civil cases of pedophilic abuse by priests, and almost invariably they required total secrecy as a condition of the settlement. The secrecy wasn't requested by the victims; it was demanded by the church, and forced on the victims. In fact, it was a big story earlier in the year that the church, under heavy pressure to carry some openness into its dealings, had released the victims from these unwanted secrecy oaths.

But, in their desperation to keep from admitting what is obvious to everyone, that the hierarchy was (and continues to be) more concerned with shielding itself from blame than with the safety of parishoners, they twist the truth on its head.

How bad have things become? The op-ed page of today's Boston Globe has a piece by a visiting fellow at Stanford Law School expressing his dismay at the behavior of the lawyers who wrote up these secrecy agreements; there's something wrong with legal ethics, he argues in effect, if they didn't know better than to act like the priests. So passes their claim to moral leadership.


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