Catholic Lay Group Demands Resignation of Cardinal Law

By Pam Belluck
New York Times
December 12, 2002

Voice of the Faithful, a fast-growing Roman Catholic lay group that had refrained for months from calling for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, voted overwhelmingly tonight to demand that he step down immediately.

The group also voted to ask the Vatican to "acknowledge the urgency" of the situation and to "appoint a suitable person to this position which, de facto, is not functioning at this time."

"The Archdiocese of Boston has effectively been without a leader," said James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful. "Huge cracks exist in the foundation of the Catholic Church."

Since February, when Voice of the Faithful formed with 40 people meeting in the basement of a suburban Boston church in response to the church's sexual abuse crisis, the group has mushroomed and now says it has 25,000 members in 40 states. Its members are largely middle-of-the-road Catholics, active members of their churches. Until tonight, the group had taken a nonconfrontational posture; it even met with Cardinal Law last month.

But Dr. Post and others said the last straw was the release of documents last week showing that Cardinal Law and his aides had allowed priests accused of abuse to remain in ministry and that Cardinal Law was more involved in dealing with those priests than he has asserted, even to the point of writing some of them personal and consoling letters.

The documents revealed "a pervasive pattern of administrative cover-up and concealment by Cardinal Law, his auxilliary bishops and others within the church," Dr. Post told the group. "Whatever thoughts we had about serious discussion between Cardinal Law and Voice of the Faithful have been ended."

Over the weekend, the cardinal flew to Rome, where he has been meeting with Vatican officials and is expected to meet with the pope. Vatican officials say the cardinal is expected to discuss the possibility of his resignation as well as whether the archdiocese should file for bankruptcy as a way to deal with the hundreds of abuse lawsuits it faces.

The meeting of roughly 80 representatives of the hundreds of people in local parish chapters of Voice of the Faithful took place tonight in a Newton church that last week, because of its outspoken pastor, was barred by the archdiocese from being the site of any meetings related to archdiocesan business.

Seventy-one people voted to call for the cardinal's resignation, 2 voted against it and 2 others abstained. Supporters of the motions included people who had strongly opposed calling for the cardinal's resignation earlier in the year.

"I'm fighting with my emotions," said Ann Urban, of St. John the Evangelist Church in Wellesley, who previously objected to such a move. "Something has pushed me over the top. It's time to rid the cancer."

David Castaldi, a former chancellor of the Boston Archdiocese, stood to say he supported the motions but added, "I do it with great sadness."

"I know Cardinal Law personally and well and I know him to be a good man and a good priest," Mr. Castaldi said.

Bob Castagnola, of St. Denis's Church in Dedham, was a dissenter, saying he believed that group was making a "bad strategic decision" and should instead reach out to Cardinal Law and say: "You're deep down. You're two steps away from oblivion. Bring us on. We can help."

But Bill Cadigan, vice president of Voice of the Faithful, said of the cardinal, "He made it very clear that he does not want our help, and more importantly that he does not need our help."

The group also voted to ask the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops to "recognize and respond to the moral and pastoral crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston" and to ask the bishops to release publicly the records of abusive priests.

The vote comes as there is growing pressure across Boston on Cardinal Law to resign. Fifty-eight priests signed a letter to the cardinal this week that read, in part, "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."

More church documents were released today detailing more allegations against priests accused of sexual abuse, including one teenager's contention that he was a victim of sexual advances by two priests at the same South Boston parish.

Another teenager says in the documents that a priest in a Roman Catholic church in Lawrence, Mass., molested him on 21 consecutive nights on a cross-country trip in a Winnebago and that another priest in the same church tried to molest him by telling him that if he wanted to "get closer to God" he should undress and get closer to the priest.

Like the ones released last week, today's documents -- roughly 2,000 pages concerning 11 priests -- were made public by lawyers for plaintiffs suing the archdiocese in a sexual abuse case. The lawyers, who are trying to prove that the archdiocese had a pattern of mishandling sexual abuse cases, had obtained a court order compelling the archdiocese to turn over 12,000 pages of files on some 65 priests.

In some of today's documents, the files do not make it clear what action the archdiocese took beyond sending priests for psychiatric evaluations.

In the case of the priests from the South Boston church, one, the Rev. James L. Wilson, acknowledged in 1993, when the accusations were reported, that he had touched the boy's genitals. He was sent for treatment and ultimately removed from the priesthood. The other priest, the Rev. Redmond Raux, denied accusations that he showed the boy a pornographic movie, chased him and hugged him, touching his genitals.

Father Raux was suspended and sent for an evaluation, and Cardinal Law withdrew his support for the priest's application to be a military chaplain. In 1995, the archdiocese settled a suit filed by the teenager for $200,000. In 1996, however, the archdiocesan review board determined that "no sexual misconduct occurred" and recommended that the restrictions on Father Raux be lifted.

After the review board's verdict, Cardinal Law wrote to the supervisor of military chaplains, reinstating his support for Father Raux. He called Father Raux "a priest in good standing" and wrote, "I am unaware of anything in his background which would render him unsuitable to work with minor children."

An archdiocese spokeswoman issued a statement today that the archdiocese "did in fact notify representatives of the military diocese to the unsubstantiated allegation."

Also today, a priest who has become a central figure in the scandal was released on bail after spending seven months in jail on charges of child rape. The priest, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, 71, accused of repeatedly molesting boys at a Newton parish in the 1980's, was released on $300,000 cash bail. It was not clear today who raised the money.

Judge Charles Grabau of Middlesex Superior Court ordered that Father Shanley give up his passport and remain in the state. He was also barred from having contact with anyone under 16 or with any of his accusers or witnesses in the cases against him. Father Shanley has pleaded not guilty to the charges.


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