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Jewish World Review Jan. 31, 2001 / 18 Shevat, 5762

Michael Kelly

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The Cardinal's Shame -- BOSTON | Last Sunday Catholic priests across the Archdiocese of Boston read from their pulpits, as ordered, a letter of what was intended to pass as admission and apology from Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the archbishop of Boston.

The letter was forced from Law amid outrage in Massachusetts over the revelations that a priest of the archdiocese, the Rev. John Geoghan, had allegedly committed acts of sexual abuse against dozens of boys entrusted to his pastoral care over decades. Geoghan was defrocked in 1998 and two weeks ago convicted of indecent assault and battery against a 10-year-old boy.

This outrage has been greatly heightened by powerful evidence, publicly presented in the Boston Globe, that Law, his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto S. Medeiros, and dozens of other church officials had for decades ignored and minimized compelling evidence against Geoghan. The church officials discouraged parents of molested boys from taking action, pursued secret out-of-court settlements -- and allowed Geoghan to remain, his true nature hidden by his superiors, in pastoral positions.

In his letter, Law acknowledged that he had "failed" in his responsibility "to protect one of our most precious gifts, our children," and repeated a promise made three days earlier to reverse the church's long-standing refusal to report to state authorities the names of priests or former priests believed to have sexually abused children. Law admitted that "the response of the archdiocese and me personally to the grave evil of sexual abuse of children was flawed and inadequate."

This was not exactly right. The decades-long effort by Law and other high church officials to cover up and thus perpetuate the sexual abuse of children was a good deal more than that.

Law hedged and trimmed and buttressed every syllable of his statement in the weasel words of the caught-out politician -- that Clintonian language which pretends to take responsibility and tell truth while actually evading and lying. In every instance of supposed admission, Law spoke as a man who just now -- now that he is caught -- realizes the error of his past ways.

"In retrospect," Law said, he had failed in his responsibility -- "albeit unintentionally." And it was also "in retrospect" that the "response of the archdiocese to the grave evil . . . was flawed and inadequate." Law's "judgments," in placing Geoghan and other known pedophile-priests in positions where they might molest more children, were "tragically wrong" but "made in good faith."

No. What happened in the Archdiocese of Boston is quite clear. Over several decades, high church officials, Law among them, were increasingly aware that priests under their control were using their offices to rape and otherwise sexually assault boys in their care. The church officials covered up the truth and refused to report known offenders to authorities. They repeatedly allowed priests they knew to be serial molesters to continue in careers of pastoral care that brought them into contact with children.

Law says he knows today that "we cannot . . . put people into [ministerial] positions now who have been guilty of sexual abuse." Back in the dark ages of the past few decades, he maintains, he and other responsible church officials simply did not realize the danger. This is not remotely believable.

In 1981 a woman in Dorchester, Mass., named Margaret Gallant wrote to then-Bishop Law informing him that Geoghan had sexually abused her seven nephews while assigned to the Dorchester parish. Law replied with a vague, euphemistic assurance that the church would make "the appropriate pastoral decisions." Five weeks later, he reassigned Geoghan to a parish in the town of Weston, where he allegedly continued to molest boys.

High officials in the American Catholic Church such as Law have been covering up an epidemic of priestly pedophilia for years. Such men have knowingly protected many sexual criminals. Such men therefore share direct responsibility for inflicting terrible damage in many lives, to many souls. Such men are also directly responsible for the gravest damage to the church and the faith they serve.

If Law would begin to undo the wrong he has made, he must truly confess, truly repent, truly make amends. He must resign. Only by such actions can an institution that exists solely to bring people to G-d recover the necessary moral authority to continue in its mission.

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