COMMENTARY: Cardinal Law at the gates

The Toledo Blade

December 26, 2017

By Keith C. Burris

Bernard Law, who came to symbolize the inability of the Catholic church to deal honestly with sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests, died last week at 86.

No human being should be only a symbol in the eyes of fellow human beings. But there is a reason Cardinal Law became a symbol. He, as the archbishop of Boston, enabled the abusers — serially transferring them instead of urging them into treatment and defrocking them. He also directed a systematic stonewalling by the archdiocese when the Boston Globe began to uncover the extent of clergy abuse in Massachusetts. And though he “apologized,” in a very broad and general way, several times, he never set out to make it right.

By that I mean two things: The cardinal never took personal responsibility. And he never ministered to the victims of abuse.

The cardinal eventually recognized the gravity of the scandal — he resigned, after all. But he did not seem to recognize, or accept, the gravity of the sin. He did not see the size, or the blackness, of the stain upon the church. He did not really comprehend the pain the abuses caused — the wrecked lives. Lives forever marred by guilt, pain, addiction, and in many cases suicide. Souls that never healed.

He never saw the human carnage. Never wanted to. And thus, he never did penance.

I watched a video, thanks to the miracle of YouTube, of Cardinal Law speaking publicly for the first time about the abuse, in 2002, under intense pressure from the Globe’s stories. Was he pained by the abuse? Yes. Was he equally irritated at having to meet the press? Definitely.

When the Globe’s Walter Robinson asked the cardinal if he would now see to it that all documents on known priest-pedophiles be made public, the cardinal dodged but essentially declined. He said he didn’t really understand the problem in 1986 and now he understood it better. Poor policy decisions had been made. He felt no great guilt. He gave the impression of a sovereign who wanted his cold porridge to be taken away.

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