January 25, 2004
January 4, 2004
Statement by Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, canon lawyer and victim advocate
Cardinal Law's resignation, too long in coming, will be received with relief by many. This is far from the end of the scandal nor is it the ultimate solution to the complex problem that reached public awareness in Boston last year. This problem is not solely the violent sexual abuse of scores of people by clergy. Its worst and most horrific aspect has been the systematic cover-up and conspiratorial re-victimization of the victims by the men in charge of the institutional church. This is not a Boston problem nor is it restricted to the U.S. It is deeply ingrained throughout the Catholic church. Cardinal Law's resignation is a clear signal that the church bureaucrats, from the Vatican on down, are beginning to grasp just how horrendous this situation has become. Let there be no misunderstanding. Law's resignation is the result of intense pressure from survivor groups. Lay groups, looming lawsuits and constant negative publicity. Much as the institutional Church is loath to admit the influence of outside pressure, especially from the laity, this time the pressure worked.
This is a sad day for the church in Boston and for Catholics everywhere. Sad because it took the emotional and spiritual brutalization of thousands of people, the abuse victims and survivors, for the cardinal and others to finally realize that they are not the sum total of the Church. Its sad also because it took such intense pressure from outside forces to make the inner power structures of the Church wake up to the evil of clergy sexual abuse. This moment is not a moment for victory celebrations or gloating on anyone's part. It is a day of mourning for the victims of sexual abuse who suffered far too much and waited far too long to begin to see justice. But more so, we mourn all who have been victimized by the scourge of clericalism in the church. These victims include the Cardinal himself and the other clerical leaders who have been so overpowered by the myth of the clerical elite that they have been blinded to the indescribable pain of those raped, abused and brutalized by clerics. Looking back on the pathetic evolution of the sex abuse saga over the years I think it can truly be said that this clericalist virus has so infected many priests and bishops that it has prevented them from realizing what they have been ordained to be which is representatives of the Lord and not the guardians of ecclesiastical power.
The Cardinal's resignation in and of itself will not bring the healing that is so needed for the victims and for the church in general. The change in leadership in Boston and elsewhere must not simply be a change of personnel with the retention of the old attitudes so sadly marked by the obsession with power. This must be a sign that the institutional church is beginning to realize that it has indeed, devalued children and laity alike by steadfastly refusing to take seriously their cries for help and expressions of dissatisfaction and even anger.
It will be a mistake to think that Cardinal Law is the only prelate who has fallen prey to the demons of clericalism. He is certainly not alone. One need not look too far to find horror stories of denial, coverup and disdain for the suffering victims. For some clerics the time for a radical change of attitude is passed. Only their resignation will do. Any prelate who has knowingly allowed children or adults to suffer because of clergy sexual abuse should step down and allow the church to repair itself. The age-old patterns of secrecy, fear, intimidation and denial must be rooted out if the church is to survive this nightmare intact. The resignation of Cardinal Law and others who should follow suit is not the end of the Church nor is it an expression of weakness or defeat. It's a clear sign of the strength and faith of entire Catholic community.
What is happening is much, much more than an angry reaction to the cover-up of clergy child-rape and abuse. It's a massive and on-going backlash against a way of being “Church” that is caught in a time warp. The middle ages exist only in history books. Since the clerical bureaucrats in Boston, New York, Dublin, London and elsewhere won't step out of the museum they've been living in, the ever-increasing mass of people who are fed up with the uselessness of commuting back and forth between their 21st century world and the medieval retreat of the recalcitrant ecclesiastical bureaucrats, are taking matters into their hands and tearing down the museum's walls.
Cardinal Law has resigned and another archbishop will take his place. There may be wholesale personnel changes in the offing. Re-shuffling the deck furniture isn't going to keep the sinking ship afloat. Whomever the new crew is, they will have to accept at least two basic truths: 1) the “good of the church” doesn't end at the door of the archdiocesan administrative center but only starts there and 2) the rank and file Catholics will have a decisive say in what is and is not faithful Catholic behavior. They figured it out with the sex abuse mess. The appointed leaders and protectors of orthodoxy didn't listen. Now they're paying for it.