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Fault Is Not Law's Alone

Jan 15, 2003 | The Boston Globe

It began in Boston, but it cannot end here, not if lasting integrity is to be restored to the Roman Catholic Church.

The deceit and denial that protected predatory priests in Boston was not the sin of Cardinal Bernard F. Law alone. The duplicity of the sycophants who served him and rode his good will to higher office in other states is being exposed in transcripts of their depositions in the civil lawsuits filed by victims of sexual abuse against the Archdiocese of Boston.

Law should make room at his monastic retreat house for Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis., and Bishop John B. McCormack of Manchester, N.H., and reserve a few extra beds, just in case, for those lieutenants whose testimony we have yet to hear.

How can Catholics in Green Bay be expected to accept ''I forgot'' as a reasonable explanation for why Banks failed in a 1990 recommendation of the Rev. Paul Shanley to disclose to a California parish that he had reviewed complaints about Shanley publicly endorsing sex between men and boys? Did he again forget that Shanley described the child in such scenarios as ''the seducer'' when Banks told Green Bay parishioners last May that ''at the time I wrote that letter, there was no obvious indication that Fr. Shanley had been in serious difficulty with the archdiocese years before''?

How can the Catholic Church ask them to accept as truthful Banks's response to a former mental patient at McLean Hospital in Belmont who complained that Shanley had made sexual advances to him when the priest visited the ward? Banks told the man he could do nothing because Shanley denied the allegation, but church records show that Shanley only told Banks he could not recall details of the incident.

Banks was Law's chief administrator from 1984, when Law came to Boston, until 1990. McCormack served as the archbishop's secretary for ministerial personnel from 1984 to 1995. Like their boss, both men claim to have been ignorant of the causes of sexual abuse or the need for public disclosure in such cases.

How, then, are Manchester Catholics to interpret McCormack's decision in 1994 to defy the recommendation of the National Conference of Bishops that the church ''deal as openly as possible with members of the community'' when any priest is accused of sexual misconduct? In his deposition, McCormack admits he ignored that recommendation and the repeated urgings of his colleague, Sister Catherine E. Mulkerrin, and withheld the names of miscreant priests from parishioners ''to avoid scandalizing people about the sexual abuse committed by clergy.''

How can they be expected to follow the spiritual direction of a bishop who was so misguided that he told a Boston parent that there was ''no factual basis'' to believe that a particular priest was an accused child molester when he knew the opposite? When he knew that parent's son was serving that priest at the altar?

Why didn't he tell that father what he knew, the plaintiffs' lawyer asks in the deposition. ''I can't explain that,'' McCormack replies.

I can. It wasn't in his self-interest or the interest of the church to tell the truth.

In their defense, Banks and McCormack learned their duplicitous ways at the feet of the master. How many times, in how many depositions, has Law insisted he was not involved with the specifics of these cases but ''was relying upon those assisting me to handle this adequately''? Now his 800-page calendar, released as part of the official court record, reveals that he met personally with at least 35 priests accused of the sexual abuse of children.

In my edition of the Baltimore Catechism, self-serving misstatements of fact are defined as lies. Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly ought to find out if they are defined as perjury in his edition of the Massachusetts General Laws.


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