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Vatican Should Tell Law To Go

Dec 10, 2002 | Worcester Telegram & Gazette

It's bankruptcy that sent Cardinal Bernard F. Law to the Vatican this week, but a different sort of bankruptcy should bar his return to a Boston archdiocese long ripe for his permanent absence.

Let us hope that as Cardinal Law consults with advisers in Rome, financial matters take a back seat to issues of moral bankruptcy and betrayal so immense as to require nothing less than the immediate exit of the man who for so long placed the reputation of priests above the safety of children.

The fact that Cardinal Law has managed to remain archbishop of Boston speaks volumes about the arrogance and ignorance of an institution that still, apparently, doesn't get it. If the Pope doesn't understand the depth of disgust among American Catholics, then Cardinal Law must spell it out for him.

Yesterday, the Vatican issued just a one-sentence statement about Cardinal Law's secret trip to Rome: “The cardinal came to inform the Holy See about various aspects of the situation in his diocese of Boston.â€

If it's true that Cardinal Law offered to resign in April and the Pope declined to accept, then it's up to Cardinal Law to explain in no uncertain terms why “the situation†now cries out for his resignation.

“Holy Father,†Cardinal Law could say, in an honest moment, “the scandal is spreading and shows no signs of winding down. I have become a symbol, and rightly so, for all that is skewed and imperious about the Roman Catholic Church. Even my priests are turning against me, which gives you some idea of the depth of the anger. I made mistakes so huge and judgments so indefensible that I no longer possess the moral authority to lead. My presence sends the wrong message and serves only to inflame loyal Catholics. Please, let me go.â€

Maybe Vatican officials are telling Cardinal Law what he has told so many priests who abused their vows and destroyed young lives: Gee, sorry it's been so tough for you. Or, as Cardinal Law would write to a priest who allegedly encouraged young girls to strip and imagine they were making love to Jesus Christ, “I realize that this is a difficult time for you and those close to you.†Misplaced empathy has been the standard for years, so why should things change now?

Yesterday, Reuters reported that the Vatican may take the unusual step of naming a successor to Cardinal Law even if he doesn't resign. The naming of a “coadjuter†would apparently render the cardinal a lame duck, but would be less embarrassing for him than resigning in disgrace.

Always, image is paramount. Only an institution as insular as the Catholic Church would keep and seek to cause the least amount of trauma to a chief executive who has been so badly and publicly discredited.

The crisis in the church reached critical mass last week with the release of even more enraging documents that highlight yet again the callousness the church showed its victims. Files show that one priest was assigned to two parishes despite his record of molesting boys; another assaulted girls while telling them he was the living embodiment of Christ. Yet another priest fathered two children and did not immediately call for help when their mother suffered a drug overdose.

So many people are sick of the scandal, repulsed by more details, exhausted by the need to maintain a high enough level of moral outrage to attract the attention of the hushed old men in the Vatican. This is why we should be grateful for all those who haven't lost sight of the adage that evil prevails when good men do nothing the protesters who show up at Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston with their posters and their passion. The lawyers who hold the press conferences. The victims who continue to cry out for justice and the cautious but dedicated Voice of the Faithful, which is reportedly drafting a letter calling for the cardinal to step down.

Mostly, we should be grateful for the growing number of brave and angry priests who have signed a letter calling for Cardinal Law to resign. Priests will most likely be trusted by the Vatican, which still seems to blame much of the crisis on the media and the “Catholic bashers,†while failing to realize that it is now the most loyal of Catholics who take part in the “bashing.â€

This scandal is bigger than Boston. Its shameful secrets echo in countless dioceses throughout the nation, over endless years of cover-up and lies, and the ouster of Cardinal Law is just the first step in a long process of restoring faith and credibility to an institution in desperate need of both.

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