Church can't heal with Law at the helm

By David F. D'Alessandro
Boston Globe
March 19, 2002

Having been raised a Catholic, I write this opinion with hesitation and trepidation. But as a father of three boys, I feel compelled to respond to Cardinal Bernard Law's words and actions.

Some weeks ago His Eminence said, "It's important to remember that a bishop is not a corporate executive, is not a politician -- the role of bishop in relationship to the church he serves is something different. It's the role of a pastor, the role of a teacher, the role of a father."

Accepting that, it does not absolve him of responsibility for his actions and inactions. If anything, it holds him to a higher standard.

The cardinal has dedicated his life to the Catholic Church and its teachings. He believes we can live in a peaceful world of gentleness and brotherhood. He believes we must turn the other cheek, help the unfortunate, and make life more meaningful for the generation of souls to come.

Our forefathers were right in separating church and state. But they did not absolve the church of responsibility when there is criminal behavior.

The debate about celibacy, priests' right to marry, and homosexuality among priests will continue for years. We are allowing this to cloud the immediate issue. The issue before us today is criminal: endemic priest pedophilia carried on for years with the implicit endorsement of the archdiocese.

The cardinal has tried to be responsive to the accusations, revelations, and media flurry. He has turned over priests' names, instituted new programs, and met with government officials. He has apologized to the victims' families, arranged for restitution to the victims, and tried to explain his thinking to the clergy and laity.

As this agonizing period continues, apparently he sees how deep is the pain. Some hope that the cardinal will be able to cleanse the wound and begin the path of healing. However, he is not the person for this task.

His misjudgments are many. While it was his duty to protect the brotherhood of priests, he had a higher duty to protect our children.

He was also mistaken in his belief that pedophilia could be cured by treatment. It was inexcusable that after such treatment had clearly failed in the past, the archdiocese continued assigning priests who had abused children to posts that allowed them further contact with children.

The cardinal is also to blame for the misguided code of silence that failed to warn parents and innocent priests of the predators amongst us.

Clearly, he did not fully comprehend the existence and extent of the pain he allowed to go on and on, not only to the innocent children but also to their families.

There is nothing he can say now to erase those frightful memories. Today, it is time for the cardinal to hold himself accountable. For what he failed to do. For what he permitted of others. For not being the best possible pastor and teacher and father.

Because of that, people were hurt. Faith was lost. The church was diminished.

Many good people are working hard to heal the injured, restore the faith, and repair the bond between church and parishioner. In all fairness, the cardinal must be counted among those people. Nonetheless, it is time for him to resign.

Bringing this crisis to an end requires a new beginning. It demands a pastor and teacher and father against whom there is no doubt, no reservation or concern. The cardinal would like to fill that role. But wrongly or not, the doubt and reservation and concern exist, and they make it more difficult for the church and its parishioners to reconcile.

The cardinal has done many good and important things over the years. There is much he can be proud of. Today it is time for him to add one more thing to that list: to allow his archdiocese to start anew.

Why do we need such a decision from Law?

First, because the Catholic Church needs to demonstrate that it is capable of change. That capability is seriously in doubt. Many children were sacrificed over many years because the church hierarchy was unwilling to admit what needed to be done.

And Law was not a bystander to this tragedy.

Clearly, the cardinal's rhetoric has improved under the pressure of this scandal. But his very presence is a signal that nothing substantive has changed.

And there must be change -- or none of us can be sure that the right lessons have been learned and that our children will be safe.

Second, we -- Catholics and non-Catholics alike -- need such a decision from the cardinal because the church is so important to our community. An unending series of headlines about child abuse threatens the many good works the church does in housing and education, among the sick and the poor.

In this climate, only someone with unquestioned credibility will be able to forward these initiatives and raise the money for them. There is only one way for the Archdiocese of Boston to put this scandal behind it and regain its rightful role as a force for good within our community. And that is with a new pastor and teacher and father at the top.

David F. D'Alessandro is chairman and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services Inc.

This story ran on page A19 of the Boston Globe on 3/19/2002.


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