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A higher law

August 04, 2005

TWO ROMAN CATHOLIC LEADERS acted in response to two court cases in recent days, in two utterly different ways. One went (albeit very belatedly) beyond what the court required in order to do the right thing. One avoided giving as much as the court demands.

On July 27, the Denver head of a religious order said the group would pay increased child support for the son of one of its priests, even though the courts had said it didn't have to. "You don't not take care of the kid," Father Thomas Picton, leader of the Denver Province of the Redemptorists, said in refreshingly plain English about what is plainly the right course of action. (In doing so, he countermanded subordinates who put the child's mother through a tough court battle, which she lost.) Picton said he also would encourage the priest, Arturo Uribe, to get counseling on fatherhood, though he has never met the 12-year-old son he fathered while a seminarian.

Two days earlier, a state appellate court ordered Cardinal Roger M. Mahony to turn over to prosecutors church records involving priests accused of molestation. It was the second such court ruling within a year, yet the cardinal's lawyers said they would continue his appeal in what has become a marathon legal struggle long since abandoned in other areas, including Orange County and Boston.

Accusations and proven cases of sexual misconduct by priests have gravely injured the church's reputation, even among its believers. Like an increasing number of church leaders, Picton seems to understand that to regain public trust and to reclaim their moral authority, Catholic authorities must go beyond legalities. Mahony hasn't gotten the message.

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