from Church & State Magazine, No. 72, Spring 2003)
Law’s Boston Two-Step
Irish Catholics Should Behave Like American Catholics
On Friday 13th December 2002, Cardinal Bernard Law of the archdiocese
of Boston (Massachusetts, USA) offered the Pope his resignation from his position
at the head of the archdiocese. The Pope regretfully accepted the resignation,
mainly because it was not an entirely voluntary matter. Law has, effectively,
been forced out of office by a campaign run by lay people. This was latterly
backed up by a petition asking for his resignation, signed, by the time of the
resignation, by about a tenth of the priests of the archdiocese.
Law had attempted to defend his record in dealing with recalcitrant
priests. These were mostly 'pædophile
priests', though the Boston
Globe (a heavily Irish and formerly pious newspaper) uncovered a
Foley File. This man was ordained in 1960, and almost immediately took to having
sex with a number of married women, mostly in their teens. He had children by
two of these women and drove another one to commit suicide, having ignored her
threats and earlier attempts to kill herself.
Globe had been investigating the ramifications of clerical sex abuse
(mostly of children in their care) in the archdiocese, and to an extent throughout
the USA. Many of these abusers had been active from the 1960s and, like Foley
above, had abused from the start of their careers. This made the position of
Law, and other bishops and Cardinals very difficult—they behaved like
the executives of a secretive corporation rather than the 'pastors'
of what has been, since the Second Vatican Council The Pilgrim Church. The Boston
archdiocese is about to declare itself bankrupt, like a secular corporation.
This will add insult to the injury of the original abuse of the victims. They
will be denied even the cold comfort of monetary compensation. The Church authorities
do not seem to have thought this through: what would be the relationship of
faithful Catholics to an organisation which behaves like General Motors, rather
than one against which the "Gates
of Hell shall not prevail"?
The Catholic bishops of California are taking much the same tack.
The Legislature has lifted a statute of limitations on sex-abuse cases for a
year from January 1st, 2003. The bishops did not lobby against this but have
claimed that it will be a lawyers' bonanza (which it will, of course, but in
this case probably a justified bonanza). There are about four hundred lawsuits
pending in California. And there is a feeling that the bishops will take the
path to solving their immediate problems.
Part of the movement in California was by a group founded in
Boston in February 2002 called Voice
of the Faithful. It consisted of forty persons in February. By the time
of Law's resignation, it claimed a membership of 25,000 in forty states. This
group is not particularly radical or on the cutting edge in terms of theology—or
even the internal functioning of the Church. It simply wants the clerics to
become more open about what they are doing. The apparently standard option of
simply moving abusers around the dioceses, or archdioceses or even the country,
has horrified people. It reveals, according to one's outlook, a naïve attitude
towards people who are serial rapists (among other things) or it is an example
of bureaucratic arrogance.
It is probably a compound of both, along with a desire to keep
the Church's public image squeaky clean. It signifies a refusal to accept that
a substantial number of clerics ought to have been thrown out of the Church,
turned over to the secular authorities to face criminal charges—or not
have been accepted as trainees for the priesthood in the first place. (Surely
there is supposed to be monitoring of persons putting themselves forward for
such a responsible position?) The light-headed behaviour of the Church authorities
is very striking. No secular corporation would have, or could have, allowed
such a large number of criminals to remain at large to drag their good name
into the gutter.
In resigning, Law is not off the hook of his sins of omission
(and to an extent commission): he will have to face secular courts in the near
future. He will also have to give evidence to a review board (on sexual abuse)
set up by the US
Conference of Catholic Bishops. He is not going to be given a safe job
in the Vatican bureaucracy, and will probably simply retire (he is 71 and not
due for retirement until he is 75—or eighty as a Cardinal). The interview
with the Pope during which he retired only lasted a matter of minutes. The Vatican
claims that it does not react to "public
opinion"—a classic piece of institutional arrogance—but
it clearly has so reacted, and may have to do more 'reacting'
in the future.
Law's successor as Apostolic Administrator is a Bishop Gerard
Lennon. The number of Irish names in the Boston archdiocese affair is quite
striking: the director of the Survivors
Network of Those Abused by Priests is a David Clohessy. There are two
persons named Pope involved too: James Pope founder of the Voices
of the Faithful, and a Dr. Stephen Pope of the Theology Department of
the Jesuit foundation, Boston College (a full-blown university). He is quoted
in the Irish
Times (Saturday,14.12.02) as saying that Bishop Lennon (an academic)
is untainted by the scandals.
aspect of this is that Law helped find Bishop Éamonn Casey a parish in
Equador after his fall from grace.
More to the point, what lesson does this have for Ireland? The
self-organisation of the laity in America may be specific to a country with
a democratic tradition, and one where the Catholic Church is a minority church.
Being a Catholic in America, even in Boston, Massachusetts, is fundamentally
a personal choice. That is probably the reason why self-organisation comes so
naturally to American Catholics. Their organisations range from Catholics
for a Free Choice (CFFC—on abortion) to gun-toting anti-abortionists,
from the Catholic
Workers' Movement to people on the fringes of the Libertarians (anarcho-capitalists).
Irish Catholics do not have the same tradition: even so bland
an organisation as the Ancient
Order of Hibernians was suspected by the hierarchy of being subversive
for many years. Maurice Manning, in his biography of James Dillon (educated
in Ireland, England and the US and the third generation of a famous political
seems to be praising his subject for having a "childlike
faith". Grown men who aspire to rule their own country should
not have any "childlike"
qualities—especially as it appears to mean not actually giving so serious
a matter any thought.
There is a group, SOCA (Irish
Survivors of Clerical Abuse), whose spokesman, John Kelly, is quite outspoken
about the failings of the hierarchy. But, when they picket, the rest of the
ignore them, as do the priests and 'religious'.
So do the media in general, though RTÉ has recently done a number of
documentaries about abuse in past, and the Irish
Times on Saturday, December 14th, 2002 had an editorial, with a full
page of reporting about Law and the ramifications of his resignation. This included
the impact on Cardinals Connell and Murphy-O'Connor (of Dublin/Ireland and Westminster/England,
respectively). The latter has owned up to being foolish—which may actually
be the case—for sending a convicted child-molester to a job where he would
encounter a substantial number of children.
Connell's attitude is more ambiguous: he insulted a woman called
Marie Collins, who accused a Father Peter McGennis of abusing her in 1960. He
took the view that she was attempting to destroy the reputation of a man who
had not erred since that time (presumably this is a classic 'blame
the victim' ploy—if she had not been available McGennis would
not have abused her). Unfortunately, the Cardinal was lying to Ms Collins: McGennis
had been the object of complaints from his parishioners in Dublin, and had been
charged and sentenced for molesting a girl in his parish in Wicklow between
1977 and 1979. The Cardinal, in a fine example of casuistry of the worst sort,
claimed that the latter case was not relevant as the woman in question went
to the Gárda Siocana and not to the Church authorities (i. e. himself,
or a fellow-bishop). The Church in Ireland has been pushing this line for nearly
a century: that the secular courts have no authority over clerics. It is not
the law of the land, but a great many people in Ireland seem to think that the
notion does have the force of law. Ireland is probably one of the few places
where this sort of hair-splitting arrogance and bullying would be engaged in,
much less got away with.
The media, which should be helping lay Catholic opinion, has
steadfastly refused to investigate the extent of sexual and other abuse by the
Church and individual clerics. Instead, it has used the events in the law courts
to produce sensational headlines and spice up its 'news'.
Times has been more inclined to defend Church interests than assist
in reforming Church attitudes.
There are signs that the Irish laity may start taking a more
actively engaged attitude to their Church. And, if the Church has a will to
survive, it will welcome this trend. Even Cardinal Connell, (who is an expert
on the language angels use to communicate with each other, but is less able
to cope with terrestrial communication) must realise that, if the Church continues
to handle its problems legalistically and manipulatively—especially in
the matter of the abuse of children —it will rot from within. People will
not take their moral precepts from a tainted source. And, as living in a moral
vacuum is not an option, they will be left with no choice but to take an active
part in managing their Church, as Catholics do in America.
Law's Boston Two-Step:
Why Irish Catholics Should Behave Like American Catholics
Foster & The Catholic Bulletin,Once More.
Of The Protestant Population In Ireland.
Temere And Decline In Protestant Numbers
Letter from Joe Keenan
US Religious Right And The Forthcoming War Against Iraq.
Invisibility Of Women. Counterposing Gender And Nationalism. Part 3 of Irish
Revisionism, School History (a review of Roy Foster's Modern Ireland)
Book Reviews (Irish Women In England; A Servant Of The British Empire)
Pat by Pat Maloney:
Contraception; Population Explosion; Vatican & IRA; Jews; Jehovah’s
Witness; Child Abuse; Divorce Delays; Divorce Bill; Referendums
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