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Law Makes It Clear He Won't Resign

Church: The cardinal's letter is in response to disclosures he approved the transfer of a pedophile priest from Boston to California.

April 13, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — A defiant Cardinal Bernard Law on Friday vowed to remain archbishop of Boston "as long as God gives me the opportunity."

Rebuffing calls for his resignation in the wake of the sexual abuse scandal shaking the church, the country's senior Roman Catholic prelate declared in a letter addressed to "my dear brother priests"--the 650 who serve in his archdiocese--that he has no plans to step down.

The letter issued Friday morning was Law's first comment after disclosures Monday that he had approved the transfer of a pedophile priest from Boston to Southern California.

Responding to reams of documents from the archdiocese's own files that showed Father Paul Shanley had advocated sex between men and boys--stating at one point that "when adults have sex with children, the children seduce them"--the cardinal wrote:

"The case of Father Paul Shanley is particularly troubling for us. For me personally, it has brought home with painful clarity how inadequate our record-keeping has been."

Outside the cardinal's residence late Friday, spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey would not elaborate on Law's comments.

But she stressed that his two-page letter was aimed only at fellow priests.

"The letter is not an answer to the question: 'Will he resign?' " she said. But she added: "The letter is pretty clear that he is going to continue as archbishop as long as God gives him the resources to do so."

More than once, Morrissey had to strain to be heard above the sounds of drivers honking their horns as they passed the chancery. The motorists were responding to protesters holding signs reading: "Honk if you want Law to go."

Joe Gallagher, owner of a decorator supply company and organizer of a group called Coalition for Concerned Catholics, was holding a sign reading, "Go directly to jail."

Of Law's letter, Gallagher said: "I am extremely disappointed. Instead of spending the week trying to figure out some compassionate way to respond to victims, he apparently has spent the week hunkered down in his bunker, trying to figure out how to hang onto his power."

Gallagher described himself as a devout, practicing Catholic. He said he had not lost his faith, but felt "really quite puzzled" about his church.

"I have six kids," he said. "They say to me, 'Dad, what the heck are you doing in that church? Would you belong to a country club that treated people that way?' "

But C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League here, said he came to the chancery Friday to defend his cardinal.

"I am pleased," Doyle said of Law's announcement that he will not renounce his job. "This is an issue for the pope. It is not up to the bottom feeders of the media." Only the pope has the power within the church to remove a cardinal.

"We can't judge this by secular standards. He is not our CEO. He is our father," Doyle said.

Morrissey said the cardinal had spent the week in private meetings with other clerics and with victims of sexual abuse by priests.

"He is also reflecting, and spending a great deal of time in prayer," she said. "He derives his strength from prayer. He asked for your prayers too."

Morrissey would not comment about whether Law had been in touch with the Vatican during the week, and said she was "not privy to" information about whether Law had submitted his resignation.

"The cardinal is clearly very concerned," Morrissey said. "Clearly, when he hears people have lost trust in his leadership, that is troubling."

But, she said, "he does not believe he has lost his moral authority."

With donations to diocesan charities down since the scandal escalated, Morrissey said, the cardinal was dealing with the financial effects of the problem "one day at a time."

"A word needs to be said. There are a great number of people who are in pain," Morrissey added. "But it is time that we take a deep breath. This is not a story that is going to end today or tomorrow."

Her assurances were of scant consolation to Terry McKiernan, a writer and a member of a Catholic group formed in January called Voice of the Faithful. McKiernan also found little comfort in Law's letter.

"Under cover of communicating with priests, he tells us he plans to keep his job," McKiernan said. "He really has to resign. The Shanley documents make it clear that he had knowledge of [pedophile priests] at every turn. He knowingly sent a rapist out to San Bernardino."

Law's letter addressed the fact that some priests in his own diocese have voiced similar views.

"I know that there are many who believe my resignation is part of the solution," Law wrote. "It distresses me greatly to have become a lightning rod of division when mine should be a ministry of unity."

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