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Spotlight Report

  A Boston Globe Editorial  

The cardinal's test

2/21/2002

THE QUESTION OF Cardinal Bernard Law's continued leadership of an archdiocese racked by the widening scandal of child sex abuse is a concern not only for Boston-area Catholics but also for the civic and political leaders who work closely with Law to advance important matters of public policy. Several have recently come to the cardinal's aid, for Law actually holds two positions: as the heirarchical leader of 2 million Catholics in Greater Boston and as a moral voice on public social issues, even for non-Catholics, through out New England.

The church's reverence for life and belief in the dignity of the poor manifest themselves in an activist commitment to social justice. From affordable housing to the death penalty to abortion to better relations with Cuba, Law's role in the public sphere has been significant. The Globe agrees with the church's position on some of these issues and disagrees on others. But so long as the Boston archdiocese and its leader are caught up in scandal, their ability to move any of them forward remains frozen.

Since January, when the Globe first reported the extent of child sexual abuse among priests in the Boston archdiocese, the cardinal -- belatedly and under pressure -- has struggled to address the wrongs committed. He has brought law enforcement authorities the names of some 80 priests accused of sexually molesting minors. He has lifted official opposition to a bill that would make clergy mandatory reporters of suspected child abuse, albeit with an exemption for pastoral counseling.

But it is a mistake to assume that these actions are sufficient to address the extent of disillusion with both the cardinal and the church, even among Catholics.

It is now known that church leaders turned a blind eye for years to the suffering of innocent children while they wrapped a veil of confidentiality and silence around unspeakable crimes. For years the church chose its own welfare over the well-being of its flock. These priorities are shockingly distorted.

Perhaps more than the names of pedophile priests or Law's plans for special advisory commissions, the public has the right to know the answers to deeper questions. What is it about the beliefs and culture of the church and its hierarchy that would make it more important to protect the institution than to protect the children? What explains the contradiction between its mighty causes and its evasive actions? What fundamental changes are needed, beyond better screening of applicants to the seminary and eviction of priestly offenders?

Forty-eight percent of local Catholics told the Globe and WBZ-TV in a recent poll that the cardinal should resign. The Catholic Church is central to many lives and should remain so. But if these questions are not fully aired in a public dialogue and steps taken to address the root causes of clerical abuse, it will matter little who the archbishop is.

Kathleen Burge can be reached at kburge@globe.com

This story ran on page A16 of the Boston Globe on 2/21/2002.
Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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