Boston Catholics Need More Than O'Malley: Commentary

Peter Pollard
WBUR [Boston MA]
Downloaded July 2, 2003

BOSTON, MA (2003-07-02) As the father of a young child, I long to pass on the peace I once found in the deeply held religious beliefs of my Catholic childhood. But one of the most painful legacies of being sexually abused by my parish priest in the 1960s was the loss of my ability to maintain a spiritual practice.

The subsequent refusal by the Boston Catholic hierarchy to remove the priest when I reported the abuse in 1987 only added to my mistrust of spiritual leaders.

So my caution at the news of Bishop Sean O'Malley's appointment as Cardinal Bernard Law's permanent replacement should come as no surprise.

After a year and a half of unrelenting negative news stories, Boston Catholics may understandably rejoice at the choice of Bishop O'Malley, a man already practiced at cleaning up others' clergy abuse scandals.

Sadly, Catholics' impulse to hope that the "right" archbishop might rescue the Boston Archdiocese from the sex-abuse crisis is precisely the reason the scandalous behavior was able to persist in the first place.

If nothing else, the evidence revealed over the past 18 months highlights one undeniable truth: The protection of the vulnerable cannot be left to the good will of individuals. Only when every Catholic, - every mother, father, aunt, uncle, sister brother and friend -- assumes personal responsibility for holding bishops and priests accountable for the horrible failures, will healing begin.

The bishops have had decades to correct the problem, but their conflicting interests make it impossible. Any disclosures they have already made have been forced by outside intervention.

The harsh reality is that it is time for the Catholic Church to turn over the care of clergy sex abuse victims to independent professionals. The victims of past sex abuse and those who are vulnerable to abuse in the future don't just need a bishop dedicated to eradicating sexual abuse in the church. Catholics everywhere must vigorously engage in righting the wrongs themselves.


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