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Spotlight Report

  Cardinal Bernard Law speaks with the media after Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross. (Globe Staff Photo / Tom Herde)

A resolute Law repeats he won't go

Vows to focus on protections for children

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 2/11/2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, faced with polling indicating that nearly half of Boston-area Catholics want him to quit over his handling of clergy sexual abuse, yesterday said that he respects those who want him out, but he does not intend to resign.

Instead, the longtime archbishop of Boston argued that ''by [the] experience of being here when all of this was taking place, I have the ability to do something as bishop to make things better for the future, and I think that it would not serve that cause of protecting children if I were, at this point, to submit my resignation to the Holy Father.''

In an extraordinary address to about 200 worshipers gathered for Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End, and then in an unusually expansive homily, Law called attention to the good works of the Catholic Church, dismissed the importance of public opinion polling, and declared, ''I am convinced that, with God's help, as we come through this, the church is going to be the better for it.''

The resignation question has dogged Law for five weeks, since the Globe Spotlight Team detailed how he had reassigned John J. Geoghan, then a priest, despite knowing that he was a pedophile. Law has apologized for actions that he has called ''in retrospect ... tragically incorrect,'' and he declared first on Jan. 23 that he did not intend to quit.

But the possibility of Law's resignation was given new currency this week, after a Boston Globe/WBZ-TV poll showed 48 percent of area Catholics want Law to resign, while 38 percent say he should stay.

Law said that, instead of resigning, he plans to focus on reforming the church's measures for protecting children. During the past several weeks, the Archdiocese of Boston has turned over to local prosecutors the names of up to 87 current and former priests alleged to have abused children, and Law ousted eight of those priests who were still holding jobs in the archdiocese.

''We have reviewed the files of hundreds upon hundreds of priests going back 50 years,'' Law said yesterday. ''We have reported to the public authorities the names of every priest whom we know to have been accused of the sexual molestation of a minor, and, to the best of my knowledge, there is no such person holding assignment in this archdiocese now.''

For the first time, Law yesterday acknowledged the upset of some Catholics who believe the church has ousted good priests along with the bad. Apparently alluding to some of the priests removed during the past 10 days, Law said there were ''several cases'' in which allegations had been made against priests, the allegations were investigated, the priests were determined ''not to pose a threat,'' and there had been no subsequent problems.

''And yet, in fidelity to what I have set forth as the policy, which is zero tolerance, even such priests have been removed from their place,'' he said. ''I think that's the right thing to do. I think, at the end of the day, having gone through this, the archdiocese will be much the better for it.''

(Asked whether the archdiocese is requiring any substantiation of allegations before giving priests' names to authorities, Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, said the policy applies to ''any allegation that we have reasonable cause to believe.'')

Law returned on Friday from a week of long-scheduled meetings at the Vatican. He did not provide any details of those meetings yesterday, but it is apparent that, as expected, he was not asked to quit.

''Some have suggested that in the light of the events of the past weeks and months, surrounding a public airing and discussion of the way the church, and this archdiocese, and I in particular, have handled the cases of sexual abuse by priests, that I should resign as archbishop,'' he said. ''I respect the opinion of those who have reached that conclusion, but I must tell you that, before God, that is not the conclusion which I reach. I do not intend to resign as your archbishop.''

His assertion was greeted by applause in the cathedral, with some even standing. A parishioner, Gerry Zeller, distributed lapel stickers in the shape of a red hat, which is a symbol of a cardinal, and asked worshipers to wear them to show support for Law.

Some of the worshipers were delighted with Law's statement.

''I don't think his resignation is called for,'' said Julianna P. Doherty of Boston. ''He needs to resolve the mistakes he made.''

But Charles Johnson of Boston was disappointed. ''He knew this was going on and did nothing about it,'' he said. ''He should be turning in his cloak.''

Law's resignation has been advocated by a variety of voices, many of whom have suggested that in another profession, someone with Law's track record would have been ousted. Law responded to that comparison yesterday, saying, ''It's important to remember that a bishop is not a corporate executive, is not a politician ... the role of a bishop in relationship to the church he serves is something different. It's the role of a pastor, the role of a teacher, the role of a father.''

Instead, Law said, he would redouble his efforts to prevent and detect clergy sexual abuse in the future. He said he would work to improve outreach to victims, to educate Catholics to be on alert for potential child abuse, to better screen potential priests, to examine the church's handling of abusers, and to consider establishing a research center on child abuse.

Law also took the opportunity of a cathedral packed with television cameras to remind people that there is more to the Catholic Church than clergy sexual abuse.

''The church lives,'' he said.

During a long, wide-ranging homily, much of which he appeared to deliver extemporaneously and with uncharacteristic intensity, Law repeatedly drew attention to the church's good works and to the challenges of being a Christian and a Catholic.

He talked of the church's work to help women facing difficult pregnancies and to minister to people with AIDS, he called for the United States to spend more on foreign aid, expressed concern about the spread of disease in Africa, and mentioned the importance of global interconnectedness after the terrorists attacks of Sept. 11. ''I can relate to the words of Paul,'' he said, referring to Saint Paul. ''I come to you in weakness and fear and trembling.''

Law seemed unconcerned with the results of the Globe/WBZ-TV poll taken last week, which showed large majorities of Catholics wanting the church to allow priests to marry and to ordain women as priests, and most Catholics disagreeing with church teachings on key matters of sexual ethics.

''Our faith doesn't rest on the shifting winds of popular opinion,'' he said. ''What's popular today is unpopular tomorrow - you know that, and I know that. That's not where our faith is based - it's not putting your finger in the wind of opinion and seeing which way it's blowing and saying OK, that's where we have to be. We are grounded in the revelation of God in Christ Jesus and the authoritative teaching of the church which we believe has the guarantee of God's abiding Holy Spirit.''

Michael Paulson can be reached by e-mail at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 2/11/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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