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Cardinal calls sex abuse by priests an 'evil act'

By James L. Franklin, Globe Staff, 9/25/1992

 In-depth
In 1992, the Rev. James R. Porter case in Fall River brought the problem of clergy abuse into the open.  
Coverage of the Porter case
n a column in today's issue of The Pilot, newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, Cardinal Bernard F. Law calls sexual abuse by priests a "heinous crime" and an "evil act" and offers what amounts to an apology for his own angry reaction to news reports of clergy sexual abuse last spring.

His outburst was "not particularly constructive," Cardinal Law writes in the column, after making clear he recognized the "destructive effects" of sexual abuse on victims, their families and the church community.

"From such evil acts, like a pebble dropped into a placid pool of water, there are ever-widening, concentric circles of betrayal and anguish," Cardinal Law wrote in his weekly column.

He went on to allude to his own strong comments in May when he said, "The papers like to focus on the faults of a few," deplored the news coverage, and said he would answer no more questions on the topic.

"In my own reaction, I have found myself angry," the cardinal writes in today's Pilot column. "Many of you know that, for my anger was recorded on TV! However human such a response, it is not particularly constructive. My frustration and anger is in the fact of an awful sense of betrayal of trust which has done terrible injury to children, to their families and to all of us."

Those close to the cardinal say he was genuinely upset and angered by the intense coverage of the sexual abuse cases, believing that news reports had often strayed into blaming all clergy or the Catholic Church for what he believes are exceptional cases.

But many who heard his remarks believed he was blaming the messenger for the sexual abuse problem, and some of his aides have urged him to explain or qualify his criticism.

Today's column begins with a focus on the victims, as Cardinal Law described "the anguished faces of persons claiming abuse by James Porter," in newspaper reports of the former Fall River priest's arraignment this week on sexual abuse charges.

"From so many perspectives this is a tragic story," the cardinal writes. "First, there is the reported betrayal of the trust of others, particularly of children. This, coupled with the severity of the manner of betrayal if proven, constitutes a heinous crime, not to mention the grave moral implications.

"Then there is the disastrous effects of all such acts on the families of victims."

But such action also betrays the church, Cardinal Law writes. "Brother priests are invariably affected by such unconscionable behavior by one of their number. The church is plunged into an understandable self-examination to ensure that as best as humanly possible such acts are dealt with responsibly."

And even those who have been treated appropriately by an accused priest "feel confused, betrayed and at times angry and disillusioned," the cardinal writes.

He asserted that "the one bright spot" in the sexual abuse cases "is the assurance that the archdiocese is responding in a responsible way." And he thanked the priests, members of religious orders and lay persons "who are assisting the archdiocese in reviewing its policies and procedures in dealing with such cases."

Meanwhile the lead editorial in the same issue of The Pilot cites comments by Bristol District Attorney Paul Walsh that "it would be neither fair nor fitting to allow this the Porter case to taint the reputation of all members of the clergy."

The editorial went on to praise measures announced this week by Cardinal Joseph L. Bernardin in Chicago to handle clergy sexual abuse cases, including establishment of an independent committee, with lay members, to recommend action on such matters.

This story ran in the Boston Globe on 9/25/1992.
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