Sunday, April 28, 2002

More news from Boston: in case you were wondering, it's not an accident that the Catholic church is alienating its most committed laity. It's explicit policy:

Cardinal Bernard F. Law is cracking down on efforts by lay Catholics to organize in Greater Boston, ordering priests not to cooperate with an evolving coalition of parish leaders.

In a move that has stunned the most loyal core of church activists, parish council members who are generally more traditional and deferential than members of reform groups, Law instructed his top aide to tell priests that a proposed association of parish councils is ''superfluous and potentially divisive'' and that laypeople must live out their desire for equality ''within the hierarchical structure of the church.''

Priests who were involved with the effort have been reprimanded. This apparently isn't just local boneheadedness; the Vatican communique on the crisis this week, which gave no role to the laity, ordered pastors "publicly to reprimand individuals who spread dissent."

I'm not a Catholic, but as a resident of a city dominated for generations by Catholics and their institutions, I've got a ringside seat. So here's what's left of the Cardinal's moral authority. On talk radio this week, Mike Barnicle (a former Boston Globe columnist, fired for making up stories to put in his columns and for plagiarism), together with Will McDonough (who has filled his Globe columns with remarkable stories about the management of the local sports teams, many of which have turned out to be true) expressed their deep appreciation to a grandstanding lawyer (who represents some of the child victims) for bringing a moral clarity to the situation which the Cardinal is desperate to avoid.

Meanwhile, the laity and parish priests (most of whom, it must be said, have no part of the scandal and are doing good work), are confronted instead by a hierarchy which keeps on behaving as if its primary responsibility is not to serve the laity, but rather to protect the institution of the priesthood. Maureen Dowd today nicely blasts them for conceding nothing to any human frailty save their own:

We have relatives whose lives were choked because they could not get annulments --- and thus remarry in the church --- after their spouses betrayed and abandoned them. ...

Rome has resisted modernity, clinging to black and white.

But --- astonishingly, disgustingly --- on the matter of molestation, which any sane person does see in black and white, the cardinals divine shades of gray.

And yet the Lords of the Church seem to believe that if they just try hard enough to put a lid on the public furor, the problem will just go away. Which it may. They are the problem.


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