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Spotlight Report

  Eileen McNamara  

A prelate's pretense


Whither the Boston archbishop who brooks no dissent, who abides no challenge to his iron rule from pulpit or pew? What poseur pretends so preposterously to be our prince? Who has spirited away our authoritarian archbishop and installed in his place this compliant cardinal? What has the Finance Council done with Bernard F. Law?

What but a surreptitious substitution, could explain this sudden transformation from autocrat to accountant? Are we expected to believe that the archbishop who would silence his rebellious laity and punish his restive priests now allows his will and his word to be thwarted by some faceless bookkeepers?

I don't think so.

No one in Boston tells Law what to do. Not the kitchen cabinet of wealthy businessmen who months ago gave up trying. Not the public relations experts who hang in there even as their advice is ignored. And not the 15 members of the archdiocesan Finance Council whom Law would like us to blame for his decision to renege on a settlement agreement with 86 victims of John Geoghan, the defrocked priest and convicted child molester, whose reign of terror Law facilitated with all those inter-parish transfers.

The abandonment of Geoghan's victims is vintage Law in both his disregard for the public's outrage and his unwillingness to shoulder responsibility for his actions. Let the Finance Council take the heat; Law is cooling his heels in his well-appointed bunker on Lake Street.

This is the same man, after all, who could have acknowledged the role his transfer of pedophiles played in the rape of minors but who chose, instead, to let his lawyers attribute the sexual exploitation of children by priests to the victims' own negligence.

This is the same man who could have explained to the faithful the response of the Vatican to the crisis he helped create but who chose, instead, to stay in hiding in Rome to duck the tough questions.

This is the same man who could have embraced the sexual abuse victim who confronted him on the altar of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross but who chose, instead, to have him arrested.

This is the same man who could have acknowledged his complicity in the one-man crime wave that was Paul Shanley's clerical career, but who chose, instead, to blame poor record-keeping for the protective shield that surrounded an accused serial rapist.

For all the authority Law claims as a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, he has managed to reduce a moral crisis to an accounting problem. To provide justice for the victims he knows, he says, might leave him unprepared to provide justice for those yet to be identified. His solution - to provide justice for no one - establishes, at least, that Bernard Law is no Thomas Aquinas.

But even the cardinal cannot be so isolated as to think that the victims of his predatory priests and his own indifference will accept token payments from a ''non-litigious global assistance fund,'' the size of which he proposes to be fixed unilaterally by the church. Does he still not understand that his church does not get to set the terms of this engagement, that he has no power to stop the lawsuits and the liens on church property that are sure to come?

Is Law so removed from reality that he can abandon his commitment to rape victims as necessary to ''the ability of the archdiocese to fulfill its mission.'' What possible mission, beyond self-preservation, could he mean? What religious mission could justify compounding the pain of rape victims and their families, most of whom were pillars of the church that now wishes only for them to go away?

Law's tactics might forestall the financial ruin of the Archdiocese of Boston, but his pattern of deceit, denial, and betrayal has exposed, for all time, the moral bankruptcy of this city's cardinal-archbishop.

Wherever the Finance Council is hiding him.

Eileen McNamara's e-mail address is

This story ran on page B1 of the Boston Globe on 5/5/2002.
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