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Law's words frame new play

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Spotlight Report

Child advocacy group calls for Law to step down

By Michael Paulson and Kevin Cullen, and, Globe Staff, 3/5/2002

A children's advocacy group yesterday called on Cardinal Bernard F. Law to step down because of his handling of the pedophile priest scandal, a day after a WCVB-TV (Channel 5) editorial said Law had lost his moral authority.

The editorial, which said Law should consider stepping down but stopped short of calling for his resignation, was written and broadcast Sunday night by Paul La Camera, Channel 5's president and general manager, who was among a group of prominent Boston-area Catholics enlisted last month to advise Law on how to respond to the burgeoning crisis.

Unlike Channel 5, the Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was unequivocal in calling for Law's resignation. The 124-year-old advocacy group said new leadership was needed to protect children and criticized Law's response to the crisis.

In a letter to Dr. Michael F. Collins, chief executive of Caritas Christi, the Catholic hospital network, and a leader of the cardinal's team studying a response to clergy sexual abuse, society board chairman Bill Achtmeyer said the archdiocese's proposal for a commission and national child sexual abuse center is redundant, costly, time- consuming, and unnecessary.

''It doesn't serve anyone's interest to go plow ground that's been plowed before,'' Achtmeyer said in a telephone interview. ''We think the efforts they have described, while noble, have been done. And they need new leadership - the person who is the leader has to take some level of accountability, and to have that person promulgate change after having been involved in a crisis is counterproductive.''

The society is a human services organization that has long advocated for measures to protect children, including the initial efforts to require that social workers, teachers, and police report suspected child abuse to the state for investigation.

Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, said the church does not believe it is duplicating the efforts of others.

''We are committed to the protection of children and we are currently reviewing several models of programs for child protection, some of which have worked and some of which have not,'' she said.

Even though it stopped short of calling for Law's resignation, La Camera's editorial was striking given that the cardinal valued his counsel enough to have him take part in the Feb. 19 meeting of prominent Catholics.

While praising Law's work among the poor, and Law's efforts to bridge ''historic gaps between Catholics and the black and Jewish communities,'' La Camera said Law's handling of pedophile priests had undermined his good work.

''In his tragic decision to allow known pedophile priests to return to parish work and thus to victimize children again, he has sacrificed his moral authority and his ability to champion and further the many good works of the church and the Archdiocese,'' La Camera said in the editorial.

''The cardinal has been forthright in acknowledging his failings and sincere in his apology. It would be presumptuous and disrespectful for us to join those calling for his resignation. However, as this tragedy further unfolds, he may need to accept that resignation might serve as the ultimate act of reconciliation for him and his church.''

La Camera was one of more than a dozen lawyers and business leaders who attended a private Feb. 19 meeting with Law at the cardinal's residence in Brighton. In an interview yesterday, La Camera said he did not regret attending the meeting and did not see it as a conflict of interest in his role as the head of a station whose news department is covering the pedophile priest scandal.

Although Channel 5's news director reports to La Camera, La Camera said he has no say on news gathering operations.

''Reporters wouldn't consider what I think,'' he said.

La Camera, a longtime member of the Catholic Charities board, said he went to the meeting at the invitation of Collins, a fellow College of the Holy Cross alumnus.

La Camera said he viewed his participation as a ''one-off.'' He said he would not attend future sessions if invited.

Matt Carroll of the Globe Staff contributed to this story.

This story ran on page B4 of the Boston Globe on 3/5/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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