Bishop Accountability
  Heavy blow to cardinal's credibility

By Michael Paulson
Boston Globe
April 9, 2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the once-powerful archbishop of Boston whose support has been eroding for months, suffered serious damage to his credibility yesterday with the release of hundreds of documents showing that he repeatedly and knowingly allowed an alleged serial pedophile to hold posts that allowed him access to children.

No longer can Law say that he didn't protect priests accused of misconduct: He promoted the Rev. Paul R. Shanley to pastor of a Newton church, gave him a clean bill of health to minister to Catholics in California, and endorsed his running a Catholic hostel in New York despite three decades of sexual abuse allegations against Shanley and documents claiming that Shanley had declared acceptable sex between men and boys and had declared that no sexual practice, including bestiality, causes psychic damage.

No longer can Law say that he always acted based on the best medical information available to him. He praised Shanley for ''years of generous and zealous care'' and an ''impressive record'' after a church-ordered psychiatric evaluation found Shanley to have ''a great deal of psychological pathology.''

Furthermore, Law's predecessor had referred to Shanley in writing as a ''troubled priest,'' and one of Law's own priests had written ''it is clear to me that Paul Shanley is a sick person.''

No longer can Law say that his first priority has been the people priests are ordained to serve - the stacks of documents produced yesterday provide no evidence that Law ever expressed a concern or a kind word about Shanley's alleged victims, who number at least 26.

The documents show that Law's administration told a California diocese that Shanley was ''a priest in good standing'' - even as scandals here made it important for the archdiocese of Boston to hustle Shanley out of town - and show that Law's only expressed concern about Shanley's later move to a New York hostel run by nuns was the possibility of negative publicity.

Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who had repeatedly praised Law for cleaning up the archdiocese's policies on clergy sexual abuse in 1993, yesterday could hardly contain his fury.

''This is very difficult for me, and do I feel terrible? Yes,'' said MacLeish, who is representing Shanley's alleged victims. ''We were lied to. We were deceived.''

In an extraordinary moment of drama, one of Shanley's alleged victims yesterday called on God to punish Law, nearly 10 years after the cardinal used similar language to call on God to punish the news media for reporting on the case of pedophile priest the Rev. James R. Porter.

''You are a liar; your own documents condemn you. You are a criminal, a murderer of children; you degrade the office you hold in the church; you are an affront to Jesus Christ; and I call on Almighty God to bear witness to the foulness and treachery of your behavior, the evil you have nurtured and condoned, and the minds, hearts, and souls you have destroyed,'' said Arthur Austin.

''Bernard Law, today I am the one who is calling ... the wrath of God upon you.''

Rodney Ford, the father of another alleged Shanley victim, called on state officials to send Law to jail.

Law has gone into a form of public hiding, avoiding any and all interactions with the news media since having two press conferences in January. He has abandoned his previous practice of answering questions after Mass each Sunday and has declined all requests for interviews.

Yesterday, as the airwaves blazed with the angry rhetoric of talk show hosts and their callers, Law said nothing. His spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, issued a four-paragraph statement, with the only response to the documents being ''whatever may have occurred in the past, there were no deliberate decisions to put children at risk.''

Even before yesterday, Law had lost vast amounts of support among the public, according to polls, as well as with the state's power brokers. Groups of laypeople and an organization of priests - two constituencies that previously have held little power under Law's administration - have been meeting to seize power within the church - and calls for resignation are mounting as a sense of crisis threatens to swamp the church.

But yesterday could prove to be a turning point for Law, who has served as Archbishop of Boston since 1984 and has been a close ally of Pope John Paul II.

''It sounds to me like he's going to be forced to resign,'' said David J. O'Brien, director of the Center for Religion, Ethics, and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. ''The clear evidence of an increasing quantity of disregard is going to increase the pressure on him.''

The documents show the archdiocese's shuffling of serial pedophile John J. Geoghan was not an anomaly. And the records find few heroes among church leaders - three cardinals of Boston, and multiple bishops, were aware of Shanley's sickness, and yet each allowed him to continue working with children, despite complaints from a priest, inquiries by concerned nuns, allegations by laypeople, and a negative psychological diagnosis. Over and over, high church officials, including Law, treated Shanley with kindness and sympathy.

''This sad, tragic drama, riddled with poor judgments, continues to unfold, with no apparent end in sight,'' said Boston College theologian Thomas H. Groome.

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