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The call to go
A significant voice suggests Cardinal Law take leave; state budget woes; and mugging the First Amendment

ALMOST A YEAR AGO, when the Phoenix first broke the news that Bernard Cardinal Law, the archbishop of Boston, had recklessly allowed the now-defrocked pedophile priest John Geoghan to remain in parish service years after he should have been removed, we called on Law to step down. At the time we seemed like a voice calling in the wilderness.

Now the media scrutiny of Law and the Catholic Church has reached a searing intensity. As Dan Kennedy documents this week in his front-page report "Cardinal Law on the Ropes," the Boston archbishop’s poor judgment has not only led a plurality of Catholics to call for his resignation, it has also had a ripple effect throughout the media — on both national and local levels — which has projected a local scandal into a national crisis.

From Newsweek’s recent cover story HEADLINED SEX, SHAME AND THE CATHOLIC CHURCH and the Providence Journal’s clear call that Law resign to the more subdued but nonetheless firm suggestion in the New York Times that Law retire, the call for the Cardinal's exit has been intensifying.

The most recent voice to join that chorus — subtly and decorously — came from WCVB-TV Channel 5. On March 3, station president and general manager Paul La Camera broadcast an editorial reflecting on how Law and the community might achieve a degree of reconciliation.

"Cardinal Law has been an effective moral and community leader as archbishop of Boston," La Camera acknowledged. "He has done wonderful work among the poor and on behalf of immigrants. He has bridged historic gaps between Catholics and the black and Jewish communities.

"But," La Camera continued, "in his tragic decision to allow known pedophile priests to return to parish work and thus victimize children again, he has sacrificed his moral authority....

"It would be presumptuous and disrespectful for us to join those calling for his resignation. However, as this tragedy further unfolds, he may need to accept that resignation might serve as the ultimate act of reconciliation for him and his Church."

These heartfelt and measured words are heavy with import. La Camera is not only a veteran and respected broadcast executive; he was also among the group of powerful community leaders Law consulted recently seeking advice in an effort to diffuse the firestorm of scandal. Cardinal Law should take this sincere call to heart: step down and let the healing begin.

OUR SKEPTICISM that voluntary state-employee furloughs can make a meaningful contribution to solving the state’s budget crisis is on record. But we have to admire the pluck of House Speaker Thomas Finneran in suggesting that Beacon Hill lawmakers take an eight-day furlough. Several weeks ago, in decrying the momentum accruing to the furlough campaign, we challenged Finneran and other political leaders to practice what they preach. Well, at least one of them has.

But Finneran and other leaders must know that the furlough proposal is still political gamesmanship. It’s going to take more than a political soft-shoe to see the citizens of the Commonwealth through the tough times to come. (Finneran himself admits that the $200,000 his plan would save amounts to a mere a drop in the bucket compared to the looming $3 billion–plus deficit.)

That’s why Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Steve Grossman’s $1.6 billion proposal to help bridge the budget gap is so meaningful and refreshing.

His suggestions include saving $100 million through bulk purchasing of prescription drugs; implementing a tax amnesty that could raise as much as $86 million; and modestly reducing lottery payouts to increase aid to cities and towns by $175 million.

Grossman’s nine-point plan is certainly open to debate, but it is the most concrete proposal any candidate or elected official has put forward thus far. This sort of thinking is what government — and politics — should be about.

THE ATTEMPT by the City of Boston and the Back Bay Architectural Commission (BBAC) to mug the First Amendment continues. The BBAC is trying to ban news boxes from its jurisdiction, which is bounded by Beacon Street and the north side of Boylston, and runs from the west side of Arlington Street to the east side of Mass Ave.

Many political insiders think that the city’s eventual plan is to replace some of the existing news boxes, maintained by a variety of publications, with "street furniture," owned by a private, for-profit company that has ties to Mayor Menino. This street furniture would feature paid advertising that would compete with the publications being distributed. And many speculate that the city plans to attempt to eliminate news boxes from all neighborhoods.

A band of free publications led by Editorial Humor and supported by the American Civil Liberties Union is fighting the move in Federal District Court, arguing that the concerns of free speech should outweigh the aesthetic considerations cited by the BBAC in its campaign to ban the boxes (see "Freedom of Aesthetics," This Just In).

The BBAC is engaged in a jihad for the overprivileged. (A campaign that, we’re glad to say, the Newbury Street League does not support.) The BBAC, which represents the interests of one of the city’s most affluent neighborhoods, has repeatedly rejected compromise solutions put forward by both the city’s paid and free publications.

As matters now stand, news boxes don’t sit on purely residential streets. They are confined to the commercial thoroughfares of Boylston and Newberry Streets and Mass Ave.

That the city and the BBAC are insensitive to the larger constitutional issues raised by the case was abundantly clear at the recent opening of the Federal District Court trial. The lawyer for the city, during his hectoring questioning of witnesses from Editorial Humor, the Improper Bostonian, and the Weekly Dig, disingenuously implied that barring boxes from one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods would have no effect on the publications, which, he said, would still be free to distribute elsewhere, including Cambridge and Somerville.

The freedom to distribute elsewhere is not the point. The point is that the city’s publications, large and small, recognize that the historic Back Bay district has special needs and are willing to meet them. But the wealthy residents of the Back Bay don’t own the city’s sidewalks; all the residents do. And to prevent the thousands upon thousands of citizens from across the city, state, and indeed the world who frequent Back Bay’s commercial district from having access to newspapers is not only unconstitutional; it also demonstrates an arrogance rarified even by the standards of that wealthy neighborhood.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a] or voice your opinion here in the Phoenix Forum.

Issue Date: March 7 - 14, 2002
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