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Spotlight Report

CALL FOR CHANGE

Church restructuring urged

By Steven Wilmsen, Globe Staff, 5/4/2002

A day after the Rev. Paul Shanley was arrested on charges of sex crimes, an international group of Catholics gathered in Boston to decry the ''deteriorating credibility'' of the church and promote its vision for a more democratic church.

Shouting to be heard above high winds at Faneuil Hall yesterday, leaders of the church reform group Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church took turns at a microphone, to say the clergy sex abuse scandal should spark a complete restructuring of the Catholic hierarchy.

''People in the church are angry,'' said John F. Sheehan, national coordinator of the Association for the Rights of Catholics in the Church. ''What did the church do with these sex crimes? They swept them under the rug. It's the cover-up that's made people so upset. We want to take back the church for the people it is supposed to serve. Catholic leaders in the past have not listened to the laity. But people want reforms in the church now to heal these wounds.''

The eight-year-old association, which claims members worldwide, has long argued that the church's authoritarian hierarchy is no longer effective. Instead of having decisions about church policy handed down from the Vatican, the group wants more power for lay members, a church constitution, and checks and balances that it says would wipe out a culture of secrecy in the church that allowed priests to continue abusing children even after their deeds were known.

''You can't have a church that's run in that old-fashioned way,'' said Sidney Callahan of New York, a member of the association's board. ''We have to have more participation. God is a God of surprises, and many of us see the Holy Spirit moving in this scandal. We are going to have phenomenal change, and it's going to come from the grass roots.''

Association members said the church should resist the temptation to blame homosexuals in the priesthood or clerical celibacy.

''Neither one of those things by itself is the problem,'' Callahan said. ''The heart of the problem is a bad moral structure.''

This story ran on page A11 of the Boston Globe on 5/4/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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