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Spotlight Report

Task before cardinal is immense, priests say

By Matt Carroll and Thomas Farragher, Globe Staff, 4/13/2002

If Cardinal Bernard F. Law plans to stay long-term as leader of the Boston Archdiocese, he has an enormous - some say impossible - task ahead to restore his credibility and once again become an effective pastoral leader, priests said yesterday.

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Despite the credibility issue, some priests interviewed said Law was still best-suited to lead the archdiocese through its current crisis. However, some priests, based on their reading of the two-page letter he faxed to archdiocesan pastors yesterday, doubted that he would stay in Boston long.

Many parish priests have been outraged at the cardinal's management of priests accused of sexually abusing children, such as John J. Geoghan, who was transferred from parish to parish despite decades of allegations. In January, Geoghan was convicted of molesting a boy a decade ago and was sentenced to prison.

The Rev. Robert Bullock, pastor at Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon and the chairman of the Boston Priests' Forum, a discussion group for some archdiocesan priests, said Law has a difficult task if he intends to stay long.

''As he said in the letter, he is a lightning rod for divisions. I hope the divisions will be healed, but the issues still remain from this troubling crisis,'' said Bullock, referring to how the chancery kept allegations against priests quiet.

Others thought Law would leave soon. The Rev. Thomas P. Doyle, a victims' advocate who cowrote a study of clergy sexual abuse for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in 1985, said Law would not remain as cardinal. This letter was released simply because he had to make some type of statement, he said.

''Law is a cripple, he's done, no matter how they cut the cake,'' said Doyle, who is serving as a chaplain in Germany. He predicted Rome will appoint a co-adjutor - someone who will serve with Law and then replace him. That would allow Law to keep a sense of dignity by staying for awhile rather than leaving immediately.

But the Rev. Robert J. Carr, the parochial vicar at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where Law traditionally says Mass, said he was pleased that it appears the cardinal would be staying to deal with the crisis.

''He must pick up his cross and feel the pain of every victim. He is determined that pain will not be felt in the archdiocese again,'' said Carr.

Monsignor Eugene P. McNamara, pastor of Saint Mary of the Nativity Church in Scituate, said Law deserves a chance to lead the archdiocese out of a crisis that he helped create.

''He's made some terrible mistakes,'' said McNamara. ''He's made some terrible decisions. But I think he's done the right thing now with this decision to prove that as archbishop of Boston he'll be able to make things right. He'll be able to supply the sense of compassion and healing that the victims of this abuse need.

''What has been done is one of the worst tragedies of our times, but as leader of the church in Boston, I think God is going to give him the strength and the ability and the courage that he needs to do this.''

The Rev. John A. Dooher, pastor of St. Mary's Church in Dedham, said Law understands how damaged his credibility is, but the situation is not hopeless.

''By staying on and by courageously facing all this stuff, maybe his moral voice will take on a brand new timbre,'' said Dooher. ''I'm not saying it will be easy. It will be difficult for everyone.''

Others wondered how effective he could be with controversy swirling around. ''He talks about being a source of disunity, and I don't see how that will not continue,'' said the Rev. Paul E. Kilroy, the pastor of St. Bernard's Church in Newton.

Kilroy said a few parishioners have written letters resigning as religious education teachers and from the church, saying they plan to stay away until there are changes.

This story ran on page B5 of the Boston Globe on 4/13/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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