Besieged Cardinal Discusses 'Anger and Broken Trust'
April 22, 2002
By PAM BELLUCK
New York Times
BOSTON, April 21 - In his first public appearance in two
weeks, Boston's archbishop, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, gave
his most direct speech to date about the sex abuse scandal
crippling the church, acknowledging that many people feel
"anger and broken trust" toward him and drawing parallels
between the church crisis and the Sept. 11 terrorist
"Some have likened the situation facing the Catholic Church
in Boston and across the country to last year's Sept, 11
tragedy, a crisis which shocks the heart and soul and which
must spark immediate and decisive changes in order to
prevent possible recurrence in the future," the cardinal
said at a Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross here.
"Regrettably, I and many others have been late to recognize
the inadequacy of past policies, the dimensions of the
crisis and the changes required to restore a sense of
trust. The repeated public calls for my resignation are a
clear signal that many feel my leadership efforts in this
area have been inadequate."
It was Cardinal Law's first public appearance since the
release of the most incriminating documents in the scandal,
which showed that he allowed a priest with a known
background of sexual abuse, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, to
continue ministering, not only in Boston, but also in
California and New York.
Cardinal Law left for Rome shortly after the Mass.
ago, after writing a letter to priests saying he would stay
on "as long as God gives me the opportunity," Cardinal Law
made a secret visit to Rome to discuss the scandal and the
possibility of his resignation. On his return, he
reiterated his intention to remain as archbishop, although
the statement left room for ambiguity on the question of
how long he would stay.
Today's statement was the closest the cardinal has come to
responding to the anger and betrayal felt by Catholics
across the archdiocese, and the closest he has come to
acknowledging some of the systemic changes many Catholics
have been pressing for.
Calling the crisis "a wake-up call for the church," he said
that he would tell those attending the unusual and hastily
called convocation in Rome that "the crisis of clergy
sexual abuse of minors is not just a media-driven or public
perception concern in the United States, but is a very
serious issue undermining the mission of the Catholic
He said he would call for "greater openness" to ensure the
protection of children, and would make the point that "the
laity should have a stronger voice in the life of the
church." Those are issues that have come up repeatedly in
the wake of the scandal.
"Some critics will say this is just an attempt to mollify
the critics by hitting the right notes," said Stephen J.
Pope, chairman of Boston College's theology department.
"Those who are more optimistic are going to say this is the
beginning of a new Bernard Law."
The cardinal referred three times to calls for his
resignation, saying that "many feel I cannot effectively
fix the problems for the future," but he did not mention
his own plans to stay or go.
"Despite the anger and broken trust that many feel toward
me, and despite perceptions that next week is simply a
gathering of aged, conservative cardinals and Vatican
officials," he said, "please know that as long as I am in a
position to do so, I will work tirelessly to address this
crisis and to underscore its severity."
The cardinal's address drew a standing ovation from the
half-filled cathedral, where many, including critics of
Cardinal Law, had come because the Mass was dedicated to
couples who were celebrating their 25th or 50th wedding
anniversaries. Some, like Mary Van Neste, 61, and her
daughter Brianne, 28, came deliberately to show support for
"It's great the way he's taking it all on, and not striking
back," Ms. Van Neste said.
But outside the cathedral stood about 30 protesters,
including one who said through a bull horn: "Indict Law
now! Throw the bum in jail!"
Joseph Gallagher, a member of St. Julia's parish in Weston,
where another sexually abusive priest, John J. Geoghan, was
assigned, said the cardinal "is so isolated."
"Certainly the fact that he delivers letters that are so
unbelievably disingenuous suggests to me that he's more
isolated than we could have imagined," he said. "Now he's
gone two more weeks without seeing anybody and I can't
imagine he's had an epiphany in that time."
The leaders of the New York, Baltimore, Miami and Detroit
archdioceses, part of the group of 13 American cardinals
meeting with Vatican officials on Tuesday and Wednesday,
also conveyed messages of encouragement and explanation to
their congregations today.
Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., spoke on
television about his hopes for the meeting in Rome, saying
it should give Pope John Paul II the chance to convey his
concern for the victims, his disappointment in letting down
faithful Catholics, and his pain over the tarnishing of the
church's image and its good works.
Just before Cardinal Adam Maida of Detroit boarded a plane
to Rome today, he told reporters that he hoped this week's
meetings would lead to a a more comprehensive policy to
protect the "little ones." "I hope that when I come back
from Rome I can initiate some things that will make
stronger our commitment to the safety of our children and
the love we have for them," he said.
In parishes across the Archdiocese of Detroit today,
priests read a letter from Cardinal Maida in which he
acknowledged the mistakes of church leaders, "here and
elsewhere," and asked those who have been abused by priests
In a taped message played during Sunday Masses at the 155
parishes of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, Cardinal William
H. Keeler urged Catholics to report cases of suspected
abuse by priests.
"We are committed to vigilance, with your assistance,"
Cardinal Keeler said in a five-minute address. "If you are
aware of instances of wrongdoing, please let us know. We
stand with you in unwavering concern for the safety of our
He asked parishioners in the archdiocese, with 484,000
Catholics in the Baltimore area, to pray for victims of
"the crime and sin of sexual child abuse."
"Prayer, compassion and assistance for the victims of abuse
are essential," he said, "but not enough."