Calls for Cardinal Law’s resignation grow louder

By Chuck Colbert
National Catholic Reporter
December 20, 2002

Boston - The anger, frustration and a profound sense of betrayal in this scandal-plagued archdiocese reached a new level Dec. 9 after a week of new sex-abuse revelations as hundreds of demonstrators converged on the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston’s South End neighborhood. In the days that followed, more than 50 priests signed a letter calling for Cardinal Bernard Law’s resignation and a reform group adopted resolutions also urging him to resign.

The gathering of demonstrators, one of the largest since the scandal erupted anew here nearly a year ago, included members and representatives of all the major survivor-advocacy and church reform organizations, including SNAP, the LinkUp, the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors, Speak Truth to Power (STTOP), Survivors First, Call to Action, and Voice of the Faithful, among others.

A much less public but more serious indication of the degree to which trust in Cardinal Bernard Law’s leadership has eroded was a letter signed by 58 pastors asking him to step down.

The priests praised Law’s work on behalf of the poor and homeless, his opposition to capital punishment and his outreach to the Jewish community. “However, the events of recent months and, in particular, of these last few days, make it clear to us that your position as our bishop is so compromised that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston.

“As leaders of many of the parishes that make up this archdiocese, we hear from the people their call for a change in leadership. The revelations that came to light a few days ago challenge the credibility of your public statements. The people of this archdiocese are angry, hurt and in need of authentic spiritual leadership. We believe that despite your good work in the past, you are no longer able to provide that leadership.

“While this is obviously a difficult request, we believe in our hearts that this is a necessary step that must be taken if healing is to come to the archdiocese. The priests and people of Boston have lost confidence in you as their spiritual leader.”

By most measures the letter was an unprecedented open demonstration of no confidence in an American archbishop. Speculation was circulating at midweek that more signatures would be added to the letter at a meeting on Friday of the Boston Priests’ Forum.

Meanwhile, Voice of the Faithful, the largest lay church-reform group to spring up in the wake of the clerical sexual abuse scandal, took a significant step, calling on Bernard Cardinal law “to resign immediately.” The move was a break with the group’s more cautious and conciliatory tone and its previous reluctance to take public stances in opposition to the cardinal archbishop of the Boston.

Speaker after speaker among the 75 to 100 people who attended Voice of the Faithful’s leadership council meeting at Our Lady Help of Christians Parish in Newton, Mass., Dec. 12 said the time had come for the organization to take a stand. People expressed their profound sense of betrayal by the cardinal.

Four motions were adopted by near unanimous votes. In addition to the one calling for Law’s resignation, another motion petitioned Pope John Paul II to take action by “appoint[ing], only after meaningful consultation with the church of Boston, including the laity, the priests and religious, and the hierarchy, a suitable person” to replace Law.

Another asks Bishop Wilton Gregory, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, to weigh in on the situations in Boston, “individually and collectively,” as well as to “recognize and respond to the moral and pastoral crisis” here.

Yet another motion calls for the Voice of the Faithful “to communicate with Bishop Gregory,” requesting that “the bishops open to the public the hidden records of known sexual abusers in their own dioceses.” (The full text of Voice of the Faithful’s resolution is available on the NCR Web site,, under “documents.”)

After the vote, spokeswoman Susan Troy, who is a founding member of the church reform organization, said, “It feels good. I am proud to be a Catholic.” Expressing hope for the future of the church, one man said, “This is democracy in action.”

Voice president James E. Post signed a letter discussing the organization’s action, and has already sent it to Pope John Paul in the Vatican.

As the protesters gathered outside the cathedral and the pastors drafted their letter, Law was headed for Rome where he spent the week reportedly in meetings with several Vatican congregations. The Vatican issued only a two-line explanation, saying officials were discussing the crisis.

The outrage of the protesters at the cathedral was fueled partly by news this past week that local archdiocesan officials are considering filing for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 and also by the release of new documents -- nine sets of files -- revealing more sordid details of sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese and the failure of officials to deal with the problem.

The new documents disclose, for example, that Law and other bishops failed to remove from public ministry priests accused of sex with minors, physical violence against women and drug use. The documents contained allegations that a priest had fathered two children, that another traded cocaine for sex with a boy, and yet another had sex with teenage girls who were preparing to become nuns (NCR, Dec. 13).

While the protesters directed much of their ire at Law, speakers also aimed their frustration at Massachusetts state and local legislators and district attorneys and even federal authorities. The demonstrators said elected officials need to speak up about the crisis and that district attorneys and the state’s Attorney General Thomas Reilly must step up their investigations of potential criminal activity on the part of church officials in any cover-up.

Both women and men spoke, many of whom say they are victims and survivors. It was the voices of women that rang out most sharply. They attempted to focus attention on what many female survivors and their advocates say is a story not yet fully told, the story of the sexual and ritual abuse and rape of girls and vulnerable young women by Catholic clergy.

Dale Walsh of Cambridge, Mass., for example, spoke of her sexual abuse in the early 1960s by Fr. Paul Shanley, who was in jail in early December, charged with rape of a child. Walsh alleges that Shanley raped her when she was 14. “He didn’t just rape men,” she said. “There are many women out there. I know some of them are hesitant to come forth. Coming forth is a journey, and people need to be ready for it,” she said. “There is nothing to be ashamed of. Thank you for being supportive.”

Another survivor who spoke was Susan Gallagher. She told of her abuse and the abuse of her brother, Patrick, by a religious order priest throughout the 1970s. Speaking of women survivors, Gallagher said, “Although the church has blocked efforts to study this issue, experts generally agree that girls make up one- third to one-half of all victims of clergy abuse,” she said. “In line with this, nearly half of the membership of the major survivors groups [SNAP and the Link Up] are women.

“Although many women have spoken out, you haven’t heard enough about them because women are less likely to file lawsuits and more afraid of having their sexual histories exposed to public view,” she said.

In her remarks Gallagher took issue with those who say gay priests and homosexuality are to blame for the scandal. “This is not a homosexual problem. This has nothing to do with sexual orientation,” she said. “Scapegoating gays is not going to do it. We don’t need to purge gays from the seminaries. We need to purge criminals from seminaries.”

Kathy Dwyer of Braintree, Mass., who alleges sexual abuse by a priest of the archdiocese, emphasized that the church crisis “is about power, the abuse of power, and the weapon is sex.”

“That’s right!” came the cry from a woman among the 400 to 500 demonstrators.

The comments of men were equally pointed. Donald Smith, for example, who identified himself as a victim, said, “I want to let Cardinal Law know that he succeeded in shattering my faith in the Catholic church, but not in God.” He added, “Jesus would be on our side.”

Robert Costello, another man who alleges abuse, addressed the crowd: “We’re here today because a few boys and girls somehow survived years of physical and mental violations, silence, guilt, shame, fear, alcohol and drugs, prostitution, failed marriages, failed suicide attempts and countless unimaginable indignities.”

“Where have you been, and what are you going to do?” he asked. “We survivors can no longer carry the weight of your faith on our backs. We carried your faith on our backs. We believed in a church that stands so rigidly against the taking of life in the womb -- yet so callously throws it away after birth,” he said.

Costello also addressed the matter of forgiveness. “It’s been said that in order for us to heal, we need to forgive. We forgive; we have to forgive every single day to survive. And we forgive you every single day in order to have hope that some day you will hear our cries of pain and do something.”

At several points during the protest, the crowd erupted with shouts of “Law must go! Law must go!”

In that vein, Mike Maguire, of STTOP, rallied the crowd, saying, “I’ll be here every Sunday until the right thing is done.” He added, “We will seek justice.”

Still, one female victim told a particularly poignant story. “I was raped at the age of 11 by James Porter in St. Patrick’s Church in Stoneham, Mass.,” said Christine Hickey of Somerville, Mass., referring to another notorious priest child abuser. She went on to explain how Shanley comforted her. “Paul was and is a close family friend. My sister is named after him. He was a wonderful influence in my life, growing up. I called Paul, and he helped me. I have to say he helped me.

“Imagine my surprise last January when I discovered Shanley’s history,” Hickey said. “It’s such a betrayal. I know a lot of people share that feeling. It’s certainly not unique to me. I want to say that the survivors are the symbols, but we’ve all been betrayed.”

On Dec. 11, Boston media outlets reported that Shanley was released from jail after posting bail of $300,000 in cash.

Free-lance writer Chuck Colbert writes from Cambridge, Mass.

National Catholic Reporter, December 20, 2002


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