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Calls for Boston Cardinal to Step Down Intensify

Apr 11, 2002 | USA TODAY

Boston Cardinal Bernard Law faced a growing barrage of calls Wednesday to resign after new revelations about his role in covering up possible sexual abuse by priests.

Area newspapers, politicians and others have urged Law to step down as head of 2 million Roman Catholics in the nation's fourth-largest diocese. Law made a public apology for the scandal in mid-February. Wednesday, the archdiocese declined to comment.

''I think there are people . . . both above and below him who are talking to him,'' said the Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the conservative Roman Catholic magazine First Things. ''Some who have been very supportive of Cardinal Law now think it would be in the best interest of the church if his ministry were directed elsewhere.''

There's no one above a cardinal but the Vatican (news - web sites) bureaucracy and the pope. Where might they send a deposed cardinal? ''If Cardinal X were suddenly named deputy prefect for tourism in sub-Saharan Africa, I think everyone would understand he was not promoted,'' Neuhaus said.

Law, 70, cardinal since 1985, is ''unquestionably the most influential cardinal in the USA with the Vatican, a 100% supporter of the pope,'' said the Rev. Richard McBrien, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame and an expert on church politics.

''He's been able to shape the church by getting key people into major dioceses, including Cardinal (Francis) George in Chicago,'' McBrien said. ''In the church, that's power.''

However, pressure on Law to quit intensified with accusations that he had direct knowledge of numerous abuse allegations against the Rev. Paul Shanley, who has admitted to sodomizing boys and publicly advocating sex between men and boys. This week, when the Boston charges came to light, Shanley, 71, was fired from his latest job as a volunteer with the San Diego Police Department. Critics say Law knowingly permitted Shanley's transfer to parish after parish, from Massachusetts to California.

''The latest disclosures erode the moral authority of Law to either pronounce on public issues or to carry out his spiritual responsibilities,'' The Boston Globe said in an editorial calling for Law's resignation. ''He has lost the credibility to put through the serious reforms that are called for.''

It is rare for an archbishop to resign, but as the scandal of sex abuse in the church has escalated this year, three bishops -- in Florida, Ireland and Poland -- have quit or been forced out. Recently:

* New York bishops have agreed to turn over to prosecutors the names of priests accused of sexual abuse. Many of the cases go back 20 to 40 years.

* A priest has been arrested on child-molestation charges dating to 1979 after the alleged victim wore a listening device and confronted the clergyman. The Rev. Robert Freitas, 51, pleaded innocent Tuesday to committing sex acts with a minor at the now-closed Santa Paula Catholic Church in Fremont, Calif.

* The Rev. Christopher Kearney, a former teacher at a Catholic high school near Los Angeles, was expelled from his job as guardian of San Lorenzo Seminary in Santa Ynez on March 22 after reports that he molested boys during impromptu wrestling matches two decades ago.

Kearney denies the accusations.

In the April 10 edition of his magazine, Neuhaus examines the ''grave moral deficiencies in the moral oversight of some of the clergy of Boston,'' but he stopped short of calling for Law to quit. The new revelations came out after the magazine went to press.

Wednesday, Neuhaus said, ''I'm not prepared to call, publicly, for his resignation. But it certainly does seem the level of negligence is deeper than one feared.''

Thomas Groome, a theologian at Boston College, calls Law ''the darling of the Roman heart for the last few years, since the passing of (New York Cardinal John) O'Connor.'' Groome points to Law's conservative views and advocacy of issues on the pope's social and political agenda.


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