The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


The cardinal must go

By Brian McGrory, 4/9/2002

Enough, cardinal, enough. Enough of the brazen disregard for the believers in your midst. Enough of the tens of thousands of dollars you're throwing at public relations companies. Enough of the self-centered hope that you can salvage your reputation before you ride off to retirement in Rome.

No longer are you part of the problem. No longer have you contributed to the problem. You are now, as one disgusting revelation after another tumbles out, the core of the problem. There is no criminal act committed by any pedophilic priest that's worse than your practice of repeatedly and knowingly putting children in harm's way.

And now there is no possibility of reform, no measure of organizational penance, no ability for the thousands of victims to reconcile the past until you are finally done and gone. So please, cardinal, for the sake of a city and the church that in many ways dominates it, pack up and get out of our town.

You should have done this two months ago. You should have done it after this paper made it stunningly clear for the world to see that you knowingly, insidiously transferred a predatory priest, John Geoghan, from one parish to another, endangering a new community of children.

It was obvious that you cared not for the flock as much as you cared for the shepherds, though your main concern, then and always, seems to be about yourself. Pass off the problem. Demand silence. Pay whatever it takes to lawyers and victims to keep the crimes out of the public eye.

Still, Geoghan was one priest, your treatment by no means excusable, but possibly aberrant. Since then, though, we're seeing a tawdry routine, with you at the front and center.

After Geoghan came word of the Rev. Joseph Birmingham, transferred from one place to another with full knowledge of his criminal ways. Then accusations broke of the Rev. Frederick Ryan molesting teenaged boys right in the chancery.

And most recently, yesterday's allegations - that you allowed a predatory priest to feed his habit of boys - were so graphic and emotional that reporters in the room were shedding tears. Do you have any idea what it takes to make a veteran reporter cry?

You knew the Rev. Paul Shanley was a criminal. He was there when that freak-show of a group, the North American Man-Boy Love Association, was founded. Yet you kept him in a Newton parish, then shipped him off to a California church with a letter of assurance and a heavy dose of relief, someone else's problem, no longer yours.

In a 1996 letter, you commended his ''impressive record.'' You said you were ''truly grateful.'' You wrote, ''For thirty years in assigned ministry you brought God's Word and His Love to His people and I know that that continues to be your goal despite some difficult limitations.''

Difficult limitations?

Now what? The problem in Boston isn't about selling off property to pay the victims. It's not yet about the church's failed call for celibacy and its dreadful treatment of women. For now, the core of the problem is you, and not until you've resigned or retired will this Catholic community make its first small steps toward recovery.

There are still priests out there who feed the hungry, who clothe the poor, who wash the sick, and who house the homeless. But even as they do God's work, they're relegated, for now, to a quiet world of unnecessary shame, tarnished by their association with a church led by someone as misguided as you.

You are the problem, cardinal. And for that reason, you will never be the solution. Every day you insist on hanging onto your job is another day of negative revelation, another day of heartbreak, another day of elusive reform.

Think of of someone other than yourself. Think of all the people who need a religion that is good, if not pure. And step aside in a Christian act toward a church you're no longer qualified to lead. Enough, cardinal. Enough.

Brian McGrory's can be reached at

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/9/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

For complete coverage of the priest abuse scandal, go to