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Spotlight Report

  Derrick Z. Jackson  

Cardinal Law's bankrupt leadership

12/6/2002

ONE CAN PICTURE Cardinal Bernard Law muttering to himself a deranged form of the Ten Commandments: ''I am the cardinal thy God. Thou shalt have no strange cardinals replace me. Thou shalt have no scandal remove me. Thou shalt not bear false witness except when I am witness to a scandal. Then, thou shalt claim to have never been a witness.''

Perhaps there is a divine, if delayed, justice going on here. The more Law insists he has the hot line to the heavenly father, the more revelations come out on how he let children roast in the hellish sexual abuse of his priests.

This week, internal church documents showed how Law shuffled even more priests with known allegations of abuse from parish to parish. The documents added to the evidence that Law's negligent indifference amounts at best to a coverup and at worst a long-running lie. Now the church is considering declaring bankruptcy under the weight of 450 claims of abuse. Bankrupt leadership broke the bank.

Law's own words, when placed next to his actions, make him both a secular and spiritual outlaw.

In July of 2001, when the sexual abuse scandal began to stain the Archdiocese of Boston, Law, its leader since 1984, said: ''Never was there an effort on my part to shift a problem from one place to the next.... No one is welcome to serve in this archdiocese who presents a risk to minors.''

In a May 19 letter to the archdiocese, Law wrote: ''Never, however, has there been an intent to put children at risk. ... I often have made decisions based on the best information available to me at the time. ... Obviously, I wish that I had been aware of all pertinent facts before making any past decisions.''

Last month, in an interview with USA Today, Law said, ''I never assigned someone with the thought that this person was going to be a threat.''

At least 22 priests, by the Globe's count, continued working on Law's watch despite existing allegations, despite many facts, despite even admissions of guilt. Despite allegations that the Rev. Robert Meffan abused teenage girls, Meffan, upon his retirement, received from Law a letter saying, ''We are truly grateful for your priestly care and ministry.''

Meffan now admits that he asked girls to engage in letting him fondle their breasts and engage in kissing of genitals ''to get them to love Christ even more intimately and even more closely.'' Law shuffled Meffan to a new parish in 1985 even though Bishop John D'Arcy wrote to Law that Meffan was so unbalanced that he ''could really harm us.''

In 1988, Law assigned the Rev. Thomas Forry to be an Army chaplain despite allegations of assault. Forry worked until this year, when new charges of molestation arose against him. In 1988, Law wrote to Forry, ''I have every confidence that you will render fine priestly service.''

Law allowed the Rev. Richard Buntel to serve actively in the archdiocese until 1994 despite severe allegations in 1983 of sexual, drug, and alcohol abuse. Robert Burns actively served the archdiocese until 1991 despite allegations going back a decade. Upon Burns's removal, Law wrote to him: ''I am certain that during this time you have been a generous instrument of the Lord's love in the lives of most people you served.... Life is never just one moment or one event, and it would be too unrealistic to have too narrow a focus.''

Law allowed the Rev. Robert Morrissette to serve until 1993 despite allegations in 1984. Law allowed the Rev. James Nyhan to serve until this year despite prior allegations.

In January Law said to the press, ''Before God, however, it was not then, nor is it my intent now, to protect a priest accused of misconduct against minors at the expense of those whom he is ordained to serve.''

As recently as 1999, Law wrote to the Rev. Peter Frost: ''It is my hope that some day in the future you will return to an appropriate ministry, bringing with you the wisdom which emerges from difficult experience.... If I may be of particular help, Peter, please let me know.'' This is the same Frost who admitted to Law in 1994 that he was a ''sex addict.'' This is the same Frost who admitted to the archdiocese that his sexual abuse of boys stretched back to 1969.

Yet Law, just three years ago, was writing to Frost about returning to the ministry. There is no more question as to whether Law has borne false witness about protecting abusive priests. The only remaining question is how long Law will be allowed to mutter his deluded commandments to himself.

Derrick Z. Jackson's e-mail address is jackson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A31 of the Boston Globe on 12/6/2002.
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