Bishop Accountability
  Text of Statement
'We now realize... that secrecy often inhibits healing'

Boston Globe
April 13, 2002

The following is the text of the letter Cardinal Bernard Law sent to priests of the Boston Archdiocese on April 12:

My dear brother priests,

The expression of support and the assurance of prayer which have come from so many of you in recent weeks have been, for me, a source of strength and consolation. Please know of my esteem for you and my deep appreciation for your faithful priestly ministry in a most challenging time for us all, and my constant prayers for you and those whom you serve. If ever there were a time when the unity in ministry which is ours through ordination should be evident, it is now. I cherish that communion as a great grace.

The case of Father Paul Shanley is particularly troubling for us. For me personally, it has brought home with painful clarity how inadequate our record keeping has been. A continual institutional memory concerning allegations and cases of abuse of children was lacking. Trying to learn from the handling of this and other cases, I am committed to ensure that our records are kept in a way that those who deal with clergy personnel in the future will have the benefit of a full, accurate, and easily accessible institutional memory.

Like many of you, I have had the moving and painful experience of meetings with those who have been abused as children as well as with their parents, spouses, and other family members. The unbelievable horror of these accounts can only dimly reflect the awful and often on-going pain of the reality. Each of these encounters makes me more determined than ever to do all in my power to ensure, as far as is humanly possible, that no child is ever abused again by a priest in this Archdiocese. Obviously, the best of policies cannot provide an infallible assurance. We can, however, learn from our experience, the experience of others, and from our mistakes in formulating the best of policies.

Looking back, I see that we were too focused on the individual components of each case, when we should have been more focused on the protection of children. This would have changed our emphasis on secrecy as a part of legal settlements. While this focus was inspired by a desire to protect the privacy of the victim, to avoid scandal to the faithful, and to preserve the reputation of the priest, we now realize both within the Church and in society at large that secrecy often inhibits healing and places others at risk.

There was a time many years ago when instances of sexual abuse of children were viewed almost exclusively as moral failures. A spiritual and ascetical remedy, therefore, was deemed sufficient. While the moral aspect of such cases is always present, these cases cannot be reduced only to a moral component.

In more recent years, which would certainly include my tenure as Archbishop, there has been a general recognition that such cases reflect a psychological and emotional pathology. It has been this recognition which has inspired our reliance on medical professionals. I remember so clearly the insistence made by my seminary professors that our seminary education did not constitute us as psychologists, and we were warned not to assume a competence we did not possess. The medical profession itself has evolved in the understandings and treatment of this pathology, or perhaps, more accurately, ''pathologies,'' and we are able gratefully to benefit from that increased knowledge.

There is a third dimension to these cases and it is their criminal nature. In an effort to give a pastoral response, we have not taken into sufficient account the criminality involved in abuse. In a desire to encourage victims who might not desire to enter a criminal process to come forward to us, we did not communicate cases to public authorities. While our reason for not doing so seemed reasonable, I am convinced it was not adequate. Public authorities have the obligation not only to prosecute but also to defend the public from harm. It is for these reasons that we have pledged to report all allegations going forward, and have provided the names of all priests against whom a credible allegation had been made, going back 53 years.

We have now, I believe, in proper balance the three dimensions: the moral, the pathological and the criminal.

There is much more all of us need to learn about this pathology so that we can protect children. I am pledged to do all in my power to provide the most effective educational materials for all in the Church: clergy, pastoral staffs, teachers, children, parents and the faithful in general.

As long as I am your Archbishop, I am determined to provide the strongest leadership possible in this area. I know that there are many who believe my resignation is part of the solution. It distresses me greatly to have become a lightning rod of division when mine should be a ministry of unity. My desire is to serve this Archdiocese and the whole Church with every fiber of my being. This I will continue to do as long as God gives me the opportunity.

I depend more than ever on your prayers and support in these days so trying to us all.

With warm personal regards, and asking God to bless you and those whom you serve, I am

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston

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