The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church

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Bush expresses his confidence in Law

By Anne Kornblut, Globe Staff, 3/14/2002

WASHINGTON -- President Bush described Cardinal Bernard F. Law yesterday as "a man of integrity" and expressed confidence that the Roman Catholic hierarchy will address the crisis caused by years of hidden child molestation in parishes nationwide. Bush, in response to a question at his press conference, declined to say whether Law should resign over revelations that he knowingly assigned a pedophile priest to parishes in the Boston arch diocese.

"That's up to the church," Bush said, adding of Law, "I respect him a lot."

It was the first time Bush or any other senior US official had commented publicly on the cases roiling the Catholic Church, as more than 100 priests stand accused of sexually abusing children.

The Bush administration has been actively working to win favor among Catholic leaders, part of a political strategy to appeal to Catholic voters in such key states as Florida, Michigan, Maine, and Pennsylvania. He has welcomed Law to the White House several times since taking office.

In his remarks, Bush offered unwavering support for Law and the Catholic leadership.

"I know many in the Catholic Church; I know them to be men of integrity and decency," Bush said, noting that he had spoken with Cardinal Edward Egan of New York earlier in the day.

"And I'm confident the church will clean up its business and do the right thing," Bush continued. "As to the timing . . . I'm not exactly aware of the time, how fast or how not fast they're moving. I can just tell you I trust the leadership of the church."

Of the leader of the Boston archdiocese, Bush said, "I know Cardinal Law to be a man of integrity."

Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, welcomed the president's remarks.

"We are encouraged by the president's support, and we are committed to the work of doing all we can towards the protection of children," she said.

Bush began trying to improve relations with Catholics during the Republican primary race in 2000, after his visit to Bob Jones University in South Carolina sparked accusations that Bush had endorsed the anti-Catholic views of the school.

Bush spoke at the commencement of the University of Notre Dame last year and has frequently invited Catholic officials to the White House.

The Republican Party is also trying to generate support among Catholic voters.

"The more important strategy is the lay strategy, rather than the hierarchy strategy, and that really has always been our focus," said one White House adviser on Catholic matters, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

At the same time, now "might be a great time to show solidarity with the cardinal," the adviser said. "You can't walk away from friends, and I don't think the president is the sort who would."

Republicans are now focused on winning support, not from disaffected Catholics, but rather from devout believers, who tend to be more conservative but have turned away from politics in recent years.

Bush continued his symbolic outreach to Catholics at the grass-roots level yesterday during a ceremony at the White House, where he called the Catholic faith a driving force behind Irish immigrants' success in America, citing the only Catholic to become president, John F. Kennedy.

"President John Kennedy said on a visit to Ireland: `When my great grandfather left here to become a cooper in East Boston, he carried nothing with him except two things: a strong religious faith and a strong desire for liberty,' " Bush recounted. "The Kennedys were among millions of immigrants who came to America with that same faith and the same love of freedom."

In the 2000 election, Bush won 47 percent of the Catholic vote, compared with 37 percent for Republican candidate Bob Dole in 1996. That increase amounts to approximately 2 million voters, a sizable block in an election as narrow as the last one.

Anne E. Kornblut can be reached at akornblut@globe.com.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 3/14/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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