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The Nation

Pressure Is on Cardinal to Resign

Crisis: Boston's Law faces mounting calls, even from loyalists, to quit over the priest pedophile scandal.

April 12, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — With outrage mounting among his followers, Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law came under increasing pressure to resign Thursday over disclosures that he had protected pedophile priests at the expense of his parishioners.

Around the country and the world, e-mails were flying among church officials about the future of America's highest-ranking prelate. Boston's two daily newspapers have called on Law to step down. The city's boisterous talk radio was buzzing with little beyond demands for the cardinal to quit. Two candidates for governor of Massachusetts--a Catholic and a Jew--have added their voices to the chorus.

But as Law has dug in his heels--remaining entrenched Thursday in his mansion here--even his closest advisors, the titans of Boston's close-knit business community, began falling away.

"It's time," said former Lt. Gov. Thomas P. O'Neill III, a business consultant and the grandson of the late speaker of the House. "The healing has got to begin. His staying in place puts all that off."

Law's reluctance to become the first U.S. cardinal to resign--worldwide, only a handful of cardinals has stepped down in recent memory--comes at a time when the church is under fire for failing to act as scores of pedophile priests apparently operated freely for decades. In Boston, Law now is widely viewed as a shepherd who did not protect his flock.

The sexual abuse scandal exploded in January, when the Boston Globe obtained documents proving that the Boston archdiocese knew for years that Father John Geoghan was molesting children. (He is now in prison.) Soon parishes worldwide were reeling amid reports of abuses long covered up that had come into the open.

The coup de grace for the Boston archdiocese and its besieged cardinal came Monday, when evidence surfaced that Law had approved the transfer of a pedophile priest, Father Paul Shanley, from Boston to California.

The Shanley documents prompted state Atty. Gen. Tom Reilly to announce this week that he may bring criminal charges against church supervisors--possibly including Law--who oversaw priests who molested minors. Reilly also said he is looking into filing civil rights suits against church leaders.

As a result of the Geoghan case, the Boston archdiocese already has turned over the names of more than 80 priests suspected of abusing children over four decades. Late last month, the archdiocese reached a settlement of close to $30 million with 84 Geoghan victims. To pay off the burgeoning sexual abuse claims, Law has sold diocesan assets, including treasury stocks, bonds and real estate.

Charitable giving is down, and some wealthy Catholics have said they will not donate another dime if the money goes to sexual abuse settlements.

But the sordid details of the Shanley case have done the most to make Law loyalists recoil. More than 800 pages of previously secret church documents revealed that Shanley's superiors knew he advocated "man-boy" relationships, and argued that children themselves often instigated sex with adults. Shanley was sent to San Bernardino in 1990 with assurances from Law that he was "a priest in good standing" in Boston.

One of his alleged victims, 55-year-old Arthur Austin, took aim at Law for sheltering a predator without "a crumb of compassion" for those who were injured. "You are a liar," Austin said. "Your own documents condemn you."

At the archdiocese here, spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey did not respond to a request for an interview with Law.

Law Said to Have Lost His Moral Authority

The cardinal, said Eugene Kennedy--a former priest and professor emeritus at Chicago's Loyola University who has studied pedophilia in the priesthood--once was "the most influential person in the American Catholic Church." But now, Kennedy said, "he has lost his moral authority."

The 70-year-old Law was born in Torreon, Mexico, the child of a U.S. Army colonel. Ordained in 1961, he plunged into civil rights work in Mississippi so wholeheartedly that his name showed up on a hit list issued by local segregationists.

His social progressivism continued as he took over in 1973 as bishop in the diocese of Springfield-Cape Girardeau, Mo. He opened soup kitchens, welcomed refugee priests from Vietnam, reached out to other denominations--and began a methodical ascent in Roman Catholic hierarchy.

"I have known him for years," Kennedy said. "He was always highly regarded. But everyone knew he was ambitious. He made no secrets in pursuing his goals. He became powerful because he understood that in order to do so, he had to accede to the pope in every way."

In Catholic circles, said Tom Roberts, editor of the National Catholic Reporter--an independent news weekly in Kansas City, Mo.--"Law is what would be considered a kingmaker. . . . He really has carried an enormous amount of water for Rome."

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