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A morally bankrupt church
The anger and shock remain. But the ongoing clergy sex scandal is truly heartbreaking.

THE ARCHDIOCESE of Boston may file for bankruptcy. Such a move would protect the archdiocese from having to pay ever-escalating claims to ever-growing numbers of clergy sex-abuse victims. Bernard Cardinal Law snuck out of the country ó again ó to meet with the pope and his advisers to strategize ó again ó over whether he should resign. What more is left to say?

The dimensions of the scandal continue to grow. Reports published during the last few weeks show that a priest used teenagers preparing to become nuns for sex and that he encouraged them to think of him as Jesus Christ. Another priest, it turns out, fathered two children with a woman who later died of a drug overdose. He was present when she first fell ill from the drugs, but left her alone and returned later to call 911 after she was already dead. Meanwhile, the prolific Law penned letters of encouragement to these monsters who call themselves men of God.

The records of 15 additional abusing priests are scheduled to be released as we go to press. And finally, one small outpost of the Church, the diocese of Manchester, New Hampshire, has admitted its guilt in shielding criminal priests. That news, however, came on the same day that Attorney General Tom Reilly claimed the Boston archdiocese is continuing to stonewall attempts to investigate the scope of the Boston scandal.

The anger that was with us when we published our first report detailing what Bernard Cardinal Law knew about disgraced, defrocked priest John Geoghanís abuse of children and when he knew it is, in many ways, impossible to sustain (see "Cardinal Law, the Church, and Pedophilia," News and Features, March 23, 2001). What weíre left with now is an overwhelming sense of sadness ó though the sense of betrayal and violation remains.

There was a time when the Catholic Church in America, and Bostonís cardinal ó whether it was Law or one of his predecessors ó spoke with a vital moral voice. The Church has always provided a principled stand against the death penalty. Though we couldnít disagree more with the Churchís teachings on abortion, itís important to remember the crucial role Law played in Boston during the sickening aftermath of John Salviís 1994 murderous rampage at Planned Parenthood and Preterm Health Services clinics in Brookline. Law deplored the violence. He urged calm. He called for a moratorium on all picketing at health clinics where abortions were performed. His words mattered.

In the coming year, as the state faces ever-larger budget deficits ó making Medicaid and programs designed to help the mentally ill, retarded, and those who are homeless key targets for funding cuts ó itís impossible to imagine Law or anyone from the Boston archdiocese playing any role at all in urging state legislators to show compassion for our most vulnerable residents. Itís trite to say what a shame this is. But it is. And it leaves us weary.

Fifty-eight priests have ó finally ó called for Lawís resignation. What are we to make of the fact that few were willing to do so when, in some twisted way, clerical abuses of the young could be blamed on gay priests? What are we to make of the fact that the priests calling for Lawís resignation, however brave they are in taking their public stance today, didnít act until "heterosexual" wrongdoing was uncovered?

What are we to make of the fact that Law cannot resign from his job without the Vaticanís approval and that while heís reportedly repeatedly offered to do so, the pope and his advisers still fail to understand the scope of this scandal (whatís not to understand about 500-plus victims of clergy sex abuse?), believing that somehow, it will all go away?

In the last week, much has been made of the fact that the archdioceseís Finance Council has authorized Law to file for bankruptcy, which could put an end to the seemingly never-ending stream of lawsuits related to clergy sexual abuse. Many have focused on what this would mean for the Church: it would force the Church to make its financial records public, and sex-abuse victims may reject a settlement from bankruptcy court and proceed with lawsuits.

This is off the mark. The bankruptcy the Church now faces isnít financial. As many have already pointed out, itís moral. We donít know what to make of the fact that Law seems not to recognize this. And that the pope doesnít get it, either. Itís bewildering. Itís pathetic. Itís outrageous.

What do you think? Send an e-mail to letters[a]

Issue Date: December 12 - 19, 2002
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