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Spotlight Report

Law declines honorary degree

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 5/18/2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law has decided not to accept an honorary degree today from Hellenic College in Brookline in the face of protests by students and faculty members at the Greek Orthodox institution.

''It is Cardinal Law's desire that the graduates and their families enjoy the joyful occasion free of distraction,'' said Donna M. Morrissey, Law's spokeswoman.

''His Eminence has informed officials at Hellenic College of his decision, and he is grateful for their kindness and understanding during these difficult days.''

Law's decision not to attend the commencement or accept the degree completes an embarrassing graduation season for the embattled Roman Catholic archbishop of Boston, who previously announced that he would not attend the Boston College commencement after students objected, and who canceled a speech at Pontifical College Josephinum in Columbus, Ohio, because of worry that his presence would detract from the commencement at the seminary.

In Brookline, the faculty at the small school had voted 2-0, with two abstentions and three absences, to withhold its support for an honorary degree for Law. Some said they would boycott the commencement rather than participate in a ceremony honoring a man who has been criticized for his failure to remove from ministry priests accused of sexually abusing minors.

Then a majority of students at the school signed a petition objecting to the degree.

But officials at Hellenic College said they had intended to award the degree to Law, and that the decision to withdraw was his own. School officials had wanted to honor Law for his long commitment to bettering Catholic-Orthodox relations; the college's board is chaired by Archbishop Demetrios, who is the primate of the Greek Orthodox Church in America, and the board includes Metropolitan Methodios, the presiding hierarch of the Greek Orthodox Diocese of Boston.

''The Board of Trustees accepted the cardinal's decision with sincere regret since the trustees' intent was to honor Cardinal Law for his long record of improving relations between Orthodox and Catholic Christians, both locally and internationally, for his extraordinary work for affordable housing, and for his significant contribution in enhancing worship of God as a basic component of Christian life,'' the college said in a statement.

In a brief telephone interview, the president of Hellenic College, the Rev. Nicholas Triantafilou, said, ''We offered this with good spirit, and that good spirit still remains for the work he has done. We pray for peace and reconciliation for everyone.''

A faculty member who had objected to the honorary degree, psychology professor John T. Chirban, said he was pleased by Law's decision. ''This is a time to embrace Cardinal Law and to offer him counsel - that is Christian and right - but this is not a time to honor him,'' Chirban said.

''There are very serious issues about the abuse of children. I'm aghast by the number of people that have been shaken and destroyed - morally, spiritually, and psychologically - by these abuses, which he has seemingly permitted.

''The action of his coming to commencement would not bring honor to our institution.''

The issue was particularly troubling for Hellenic College because the undergraduate institution, along with the affiliated graduate seminary, Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology, had been racked by its own sexual abuse scandal five years ago. At that time, the schools' president and three faculty members were fired, allegedly for refusing to cover up sexual misconduct by a Greek Orthodox priest.

The resultant furor contributed to the ouster of the then-Greek Orthodox archbishop of America, Spyridon.

Two years later, the four faculty members were reinstated.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com

This story ran on page A9 of the Boston Globe on 5/18/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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