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Spotlight Report

  Eileen McNamara  

Call to Rome not enough

4/17/2002

Pope John Paul II has invited the wrong people to Rome.

No loss of confidence in any institution has ever been reversed by turning for solutions to those who precipitated the crisis. Ken Lay couldn't fix Enron. Ginny Buckingham couldn't fix Massport. Dan Duquette couldn't fix the Red Sox. And eight isolated white men can't fix what is wrong with the Catholic Church.

The mug shots alone of the US cardinal-archbishops bound for Vatican City belie any faint hope that Rome is ready to confront the insurrection it is facing in the United States. The average age of these cardinals is past 70, but there is not an eminence grise among them. Their chief asset is not their independence but their adherence to this pope's conservative orthodoxy. They are beholden; he gave most of them their red hats.

The meeting in Rome on the sex abuse scandal next week is likely to resemble nothing so much as an echo chamber, a choir of black-robed, defensive apologists singing the same sad song to the same old tune behind the same closed doors. It is not even clear whether the 81-year-old frail and ailing pontiff will be in attendance.

Why could the pope not have invited to the Holy See the US parish priests toiling in the shadow of their brothers' betrayal and their cardinals' cover-ups? Why could he not have opened his gilded doors of the Vatican to the Polish seminarians preyed upon by the now-disgraced archbishop of Poznan?

Why could the pope not have solicited the views of women religious, so connected to the faithful and yet so marginalized by the hierarchy? Why could he not have embraced the parents of those children, from Ireland to Latin America to the United States, who were raped by priests, instead of welcoming the men who failed to supervise them?

Why could the pope not have asked to look directly into the haunted eyes of the victims themselves?

The answer, of course, is that this ''urgent'' and ''unprecedented'' meeting has nothing to do with the pastoral role of the church and everything to do with its corporate survival. The United States may be home to only 6 percent of the world's 1 billion Catholics, but it is a well-heeled minority, ignored by the Vatican at the peril of its bottom line. In the wake of this scandal, the church is already lighter in the collection basket. Better to appear to be doing something than to invite a stream of red ink to turn into a river.

The parochial vicar of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston thinks the solution to the crisis is for the Catholic Church to shed its corporate trappings and return to its religious roots. But the Rev. Robert J. Carr betrays his own insulation from the real needs of ordinary Catholics when he suggests the Archdiocese of Boston sell off parochial schools that provide valuable discipline and college preparation but fail to toe the ecclesiastical line on matters of faith and morals.

Tell that to low-income children at the neighboring Cathedral School in the South End or to students at North Cambridge Catholic High School, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, whose good opinion of the church is based precisely on its willingness to give them the skills and educational opportunities readily available to their wealthier counterparts.

There is a distinction between constructive dialogue and damage control, no matter how ''unprecedented'' the gathering to take place next Tuesday and Wednesday in Rome. Only three weeks ago, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, who leads the Vatican Congregation for the Clergy, mocked the media preoccupation in the United States with the sexual abuse scandal, noting that the pope's concerns were of a loftier nature. ''The pope is worried about peace in the world,'' he sniffed.

No one who watches the daily conflagration in the Mideast unfolding on the nightly news could fail to share that worry. But a lasting and meaningful peace, in Jerusalem and in the Archdiocese of Boston, must begin at home.

Eileen McNamara can be reached at mcnamara@globe.com.

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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