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Spotlight Report

Cardinal tries to allay parishioners' fear, anger

By Ralph Ranalli, Globe Staff, 1/28/2002

Just before reading an open letter to the archdiocese responding to charges that he failed to protect children from sexually abusive priests, Cardinal Bernard Law gave parents in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross yesterday a moment to take their children into the vestibule, out of earshot.

None did. Instead, Pat LeVan of Concord slid a protective arm around the shoulder of her 11-year-old son, Christopher, as they listened to Law talk about "zero tolerance" for "priest perpetrators."

"Are those priests here?" her son asked at one point.

"No, not here," she replied. "And not in our church either."

After the service, she said she was glad they stayed. "Those are the questions, unfortunately," she said. "But fortunately, because he was next to me, he was able to ask me that."

In a letter that was either read or discussed in sermons yesterday in parishes throughout the diocese, Law attempted to salve the fears and anger of the region's Catholic faithful. He publicly apologized for keeping pedophile priest John J. Geoghan working with children in parishes even after molestation allegations against him had surfaced.

"The failure of the archdiocese to protect one of God's greatest gifts to us, our children, has been devastating," Law said to about 200 people who attended the cathedral's 11 a.m. Mass. "Trust in the church has been shattered in many cases. With God's help, we must strive to restore that trust."

For the second time in less than a week, Law said he would not resign.

"In retrospect, I acknowledge that, albeit unintentionally, I have failed in that responsibility," Law said while reading the letter. "The judgments I made, while made in good faith, were tragically wrong. Because of this, some have called for my resignation. I do not believe that submitting my resignation to the Holy Father is the answer to the terrible scourge of sexual abuse of children by priests."

Law told a group of about 500 Boston-area priests gathered at the Park Plaza Hotel last week that, instead of stepping aside, he wanted to help the archdiocese "become a model for how this issue should he handled."

His letter yesterday outlined many of the aspects of the church's new zero-tolerance policy for sexual misconduct by priests. Under the policy, church officials will immediately turn over the names of former priests who have been accused of molesting children.

The policy also calls for other measures, including:

Mandatory reporting of allegations of sexual abuse by all priests, deacons, employees, and volunteers of the archdiocese.

A study by a blue-ribbon panel of medical specialists that will recommend changes and improvements to the archdiocese's program for detecting and deterring sexual abuse, including improved screening of seminarians.

A systemwide education program for all parish personnel that includes instructions on directing victims toward help.

An offer by Law to meet personally with victims of sexual abuse and their families to extend his "apology, consolation, and support," as well as psychiatric and spiritual counseling to anyone affected by abuse.

A pledge that the archdiocese will settle legal cases where possible, without using donated funds, to spare victims of sexual abuse from "protracted and painful litigation."

Law's message was not welcomed by about a dozen protesters outside the cathedral who held signs such as "Law's Resignation Is Part of the Solution" and "Law Put the Fox in the Henhouse."

But some churchgoers welcomed Law's apology.

Mary Henrich said she's struggling with her church's handling of the Geoghan case, but her faith remains strong.

"I'm mad with the coverup. I'm mad that it took this media attention for him to acknowledge this and apologize," the 34-year-old Boston sales representative said.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 1/28/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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