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Spotlight Report

Facing pressure, archdiocese moves big fund-raiser

Law views party at his residence as inappropriate

By Kevin Cullen and Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 3/19/2002

In a reflection of the discomfort of Boston's Catholic elite with Cardinal Bernard F. Law's stewardship, the Archdiocese of Boston has been forced to move its glitziest annual fund-raiser away from the cardinal's residence at the insistence of wealthy donors who have long considered it a highlight on the city's social calendar.

Underscoring the unease over Law's response to the sexual abuse of children by priests, Jack Connors, one of the cardinal's closest confidants in the business community, disclosed yesterday that he is no longer advising the cardinal on how to respond to the scandal, while another of the city's leading businessmen called on Law to resign.

David F. D'Alessandro, the chairman and chief executive officer of John Hancock Financial Services Inc., became the first major business leader to call for Law's resignation, in an op-ed piece published in today's Globe.

''There is only one way for the archdiocese of Boston to put this scandal behind it and regain its rightful role as a force for good within our community,'' D'Alessandro writes. ''And that is with a new pastor and teacher and father at the top.''

Meanwhile, Connors, the founder and chief executive of Hill Holliday Connors Cosmopulos, one of city's dominant advertising agencies, said he is no longer part of the ''kitchen Cabinet'' of business leaders and lawyers he helped put together to advise the cardinal on how to respond to the ongoing crisis.

D'Alessandro's plaintive plea and Connors's more discreet step away from Law reflect the unease with and, in some cases, open challenge to Law's leadership by the city's business leaders as the anger over the cardinal's handling of priests who sexually abused children continues to reverberate.

Last week, another of the archdiocese's prominent Catholics, Boston Herald publisher Patrick J. Purcell, personally approved an editorial calling on the cardinal to resign. Last month, another member of the group of Catholics that Connors helped organize to advise Law, Paul La Camera, the president and general manager of WCVB-TV, said in a Channel 5 editorial that Law had lost his moral authority and should consider resigning.

Every spring, the city's business and political power brokers have gathered under a tent on the grounds of Law's Lake Street residence in Brighton, sipping drinks, munching canapes and, in recent years, raising more than $1 million annually for Catholic Charities, the social services agency of the archdiocese. Attendees wait in long lines to pose for photographs with the cardinal.

But with the backlash over Law's handling of the scandal growing, the annual gala is being scrapped in favor of a more subdued event, most likely at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End.

Last night, Joseph Doolin, president of Catholic Charities, confirmed that ''the cardinal has decided he will not host the annual garden party this year in the same manner he has in years past out of respect for the many people who are suffering at this time.''

Law ''doesn't feel it is appropriate to hold a celebration, even for a good cause, when we are all struggling with the painful issue of child abuse,'' said Doolin. The fund-raiser will still be held, he said, and details will be announced when they are completed.

Interviews with several Catholic Charities board members suggested there were deep divisions over holding a party while the scandal is attracting headlines nationwide.

''One third of the people were saying we can't have a party, another third were saying we can't hurt the cardinal like this, and the other third didn't know what to think,'' said one Catholic Charities board member who spoke on condition that he not be identified.

Some board members said that potential donors indicated they would withhold donations and wouldn't attend if the party were to be held at the cardinal's residence.

In an interview yesterday, Neal Finnegan, the chairman of the Catholic Charities board, said the cardinal agreed it would be wise to move the event from his residence this year.

Finnegan, who is chairman of Citizens Bank of Massachusetts, acknowledged that there were at least two schools of thought about discarding a tradition that dates back 26 years, even before Law became archbishop.

''The one thing that people of both persuasions feel is we don't want a shortfall,'' said Finnegan, noting the demand for services from Catholic Charities is growing. ''The cardinal understands how important this is.''

A spokeswoman for the agency, Maureen March, said officials are still trying to figure out when and where to hold the fund-raiser this year. She said cancelling the event is not an option because the charity needs the money for programs that help children. Last year the event raised $1.4 million for social service programs.

''Most of the folks on our board, as well as our donors, just felt uncomfortable having a party at the cardinal's house,'' March said. ''Everybody knows Catholic Charities is critical and needed, but we just need to frame our fund-raiser a little differently than in the past.''

Friends of Purcell say the Herald publisher, a devout Catholic, was furious over the cardinal's handling of the serial pedophile priest John Geoghan, whom Law transferred to Purcell's parish, St. Julia's of Weston, despite knowing that Geoghan had molested children at other parishes.

At St. Julia's, Geoghan presided over the wedding of Purcell's daughter, and Purcell's wife, Maureen, was a teacher in the parish's religious education program, which Geoghan supervised.

In an interview yesterday, Purcell said he and his wife signed a petition that Geoghan circulated in 1992 in a bid to become the pastor at St. Julia's. Despite having a long and close friendship with the cardinal, Purcell was unaware that he was lobbying on behalf of someone with a long history of sexual abuse. Purcell stressed that his approval of the editorial calling for Law's resignation was not personal.

''The one thing I want to make clear is that it's not personal. This is a decision I made with great seriousness. This was a position I felt that the paper had to take, regardless of the consequences,'' said Purcell.

Of Law's handling of the crisis, Purcell said, ''He's botched this thing terribly. He allowed Geoghan to be in a position to do harm to children. It's inexcusable. The more we see the evidence, the stream of people coming forward, the PR offensive, we had to say something.''

D'Alessandro, who said he was raised a Catholic and brought up his children as Catholics, said in an interview that the sexual abuse issue ''isn't about morality. This is about criminality.''

''I have three boys, including a 4-year-old, and every time I look at that 4-year-old, I think that if one of these priests ever touched him, I'd want everybody in the line accountable,'' he said. ''Also, I run a 200-person child care center [for employees] here, and if we had a pedophile who abused children here and I sent him off to treatment and then allowed him to go to work at another child care center, I'd be arrested.''

D'Alessandro said he has also been embarrassed by the perception that business leaders have rallied around the cardinal.

''I saw published articles that gave the impression that the business community was backing the cardinal, but there's at least one CEO in town that is not,'' he said. ''And there are lots of guys that are telling the cardinal privately to resign. He's just not returning their phone calls now.''

While Connors declined to discuss his own position on resignation, he said, ''I'm aware of David's op-ed piece and I'm very comfortable with what David's doing. But I like to work things my own way - I don't go public with my thoughts regarding my faith.''

Connors said, however, he is no longer providing strategic advice to Law.

''I gave him my thoughts, and there wasn't any reason to continue after having done so,'' Connors said. ''My recommendation to the cardinal was to get everything out, don't hold anything back, there is no reason to have any secrets, and be totally forthcoming. You can be the judge of whether he has or hasn't done that.''

Kevin Cullen can be reached at cullen@globe.com. Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com

This story ran on page A12 of the Boston Globe on 3/19/2002.
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