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Cardinal Law Steps Down

December 13, 2002 at 12:00 AM EDT
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RAY SUAREZ: And with me now are Steve Krueger, interim executive director of Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based organization of Catholics formed in response to the sexual abuse scandal. It has over 25,000 members; Father Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese of Boston; and Stephen Pope, chairman of the theology department at Boston College.

Father Coyne, let’s start with you. Had things changed in just the last two weeks in a way to make Cardinal Law continuing as the archdiocese and leader untenable?

FATHER CHRISTOPHER COYNE: Well, we had set a number of good programs in place and we had been moving forward in a lot of positive ways. The Cardinal himself had been more proactive in coming out and talking to the media and meeting with victims. It seemed that we had kind of turned a corner. We were moving forward again in a very positive way.

But then when the story broke about the possible Chapter 11 resolution to some of the financial problems that are plaguing the archdiocese, as well as some of the release of numerous pages of documents that put forward in a very graphic way and a very, in a very, I guess, important way for many people, when this story broke, and it got out there, it just started to pick it all up again and the calls for the Cardinal’s resignation and the feelings of many people in the archdiocese seemed to shift in a whole different direction.

RAY SUAREZ: In the latest release of documents, there are several cases where instead of just being allegations, there are admissions from the priests in question that there had been misconduct and Cardinal Law is seen as reassigning, comforting these priests. Has the Cardinal explained his conduct in any of these cases in a public way?

FATHER CHRISTOPHER COYNE: No, he hasn’t explained anything in relationship to the new cases. He has said in the past that he relied upon the advice of doctors and psychiatrists who, at the time, assured him that the men themselves were capable of going back to work.

He also relied upon his own sense as the pastoral leader of the church to try and work with the priests and to help them work and move forward into their life as a priest again. But as far as any kind of recent disclosures in relationship to the new cases that have come forward, he hasn’t said anything about that.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Pope, how were things changing in the Boston archdiocese that gave Cardinal Law a very different situation to work than let’s say a year ago?

STEPHEN POPE: Well, Ray, I’d say that we were making positive steps in Boston as Father Coyne has said, until the legal papers came out revealing more cases. And that converged with the fact that 58 priests in the archdiocese of Boston, men not given to be rabble rousers signed a letter calling on Cardinal Law to resign.

That was immediately followed the next day by a strong document written by a moderate organization, Voice of the Faithful, that also called on Cardinal Law to resign. Those all created, I think, an avalanche of public opinions that led strongly to his sense that he must resign and that his leadership was no longer possible.

RAY SUAREZ: Had the archdiocese tried to keep this latest release of documents from happening?

STEPHEN POPE: Well, I’m a moral theologian and not a lawyer but it was clear from the newspaper accounts that his lawyers tried to delay the release of the documents as long as possible. It’s clear from the content why they want to do so, although it was also clear it was counterproductive because the longer the documents release was delayed, the more interest gathered and the more explosive its effect was bound to be.

RAY SUAREZ: Steve Krueger, let’s hear from Voice of the Faithful. You had very recently made a public call for the Cardinal to resign as archbishop of Boston. Was there any feeling of vindication when he finally did it?

STEVE KRUEGER: No, no, Ray. There really wasn’t. Today is a very sorrowful day for the Catholics in this archdiocese as well as for Catholics across the country. The fact that the archdiocese had to go through these terrible revelations in order for this to happen only compounded the pain of many of the survivors. And it essentially has reopened the wounds of many of the laity within the archdiocese who had started a healing process.

Today has been a sorrowful day, but it’s also a day that we have to recognize only addresses the immediate issues of this crisis, where there was essentially no pastoral leadership within the archdiocese because the people had effectively lost their confidence in Cardinal Law. And to that degree, it’s one step on the first leg of a very long journey.

RAY SUAREZ: Well, what has to happen now? I mean many of the variables that are out there that led Voice of the Faithful to make this call are still in play: The threat of 60 or 70 new lawsuits; the papers full of these lurid stories. How do Catholic laity get back to business and does this change at the top make it possible to work with your leaders in a way that you couldn’t last week or last month?

STEVE KRUEGER: I think that the next steps in this process is that the hierarchy within the archdiocese of Boston and subsequently across the country, have to listen to the pain that has been inflicted on the survivors, on their families, on the laity and even on the priests. And it has to start with collaborative dialogue. And out of that dialogue, there will be hope for substantial change. But we’re in the midst of a very historic — a very historic moment here, and I think that we all as basically one church, have to take advantage of this moment to learn from the mistakes of the past.

In fact, the archdiocese and newspaper here in Boston, The Pilot attributed this crisis to a culture of secrecy and authoritarianism. And ultimately, the resignation of Cardinal Law does not address the root cause of the problem, nor does it address the potential solutions to it. There are cultural problems within the hierarchy, and there are also systematic — endemic systematic flaws that also need to be addressed.

RAY SUAREZ: Father Coyne, earlier this year bishops around the country met in Dallas to work out new policies. There has been a reply from the Vatican, some negotiations with the leader of the bishops in the United States. Are rules in place that would make the things that we are seeing now in the papers from the ’90s and ’80s no longer possible? Is the church in a different position objectively from when these things happened?

FATHER CHRISTOPHER COYNE: I think the church over the past year has been listening to a wide variety of people; it’s been listening to the victims survivors and their families; it’s been listening to the laity; it’s been listening to its priests. In many ways it seems that is all we have been doing is listen. After having listened and having heard the people and having heard what people — where people think we need to go, the church has implemented policies to make sure — to do everything we can to make sure none of this happens again.

The church in Boston has implemented policies to try and do everything we can to try to heal the victims survivors and their families. We’ve set up an office for protection of children, we’ve set up a whole program of education by the end of this year where we hope to educate close to 200,000 people to make sure that people can get an idea of what are the root causes of child abuse and what we do to protect children.

The policy that came out of Dallas and has since been worked on and working toward the approval of Rome is a policy I think that along with all the things that we have been doing this year and in the years prior to that, should make a great gain in terms of moving us forward as a church to make sure that this never happens again in helping to protect children and to help to restore the good name of the church.

RAY SUAREZ: Is the bankruptcy still a possibility, Father?

FATHER CHRISTOPHER COYNE: As far as Chapter 11 goes, that’s something that’s still out there. But I think what we’re trying to do more than anything else, is come to a global resolution of all this so that all of the victims and all of the people who have any kind of a legal action against us can be treated in a fair, equitable and just way so that it’s not just the people at the front of the line in terms of the first few people who manage to get through the court system and make big judgments against the church. It’s all of them that get in the same kind of a pool and everyone has a chance to receive the kind of monies they need to get the healing they have and for the church to give them some compensation for the suffering that they’ve felt.

RAY SUAREZ: Professor Pope, there are similar stories coming out in the press in Boston’s neighbor New Hampshire, in California, in Arizona, in Milwaukee. Does the resignation of Cardinal Law embolden laity in these various places around the country to push harder for a different kind ever accountability than they’ve been getting?

STEPHEN POPE: Yes, I think it can can’t help but have an impact on lay activism, especially lay activism of the kind we’ve had in Boston, which has been responsible, moderate and restrained.

It is very important to recognize that in this country there is a movement among the laity that when they found dissatisfaction in the way in which the church was governed, they have not simply wanted to abandon the church as you’ve seen in many cases in Europe, but rather they redoubled their commitment to the church and tried to be actively participating in it.

I think the case of Boston is unique. And though there may be a fear of domino effect with other bishops in the region, particularly those who have been lieutenants of Cardinal Law, I believe that the incidents in Boston are of a different order, of different nature, different quantity than what we’ve seen around the country. Certainly in New York and Chicago and Los Angeles, there is an equally aggressive press corps, yet the number of cases that have come out haven’t been nearly on the scale that we’ve had in Boston.

But I do think it has inspired not only the laity to be involved in the life of their church, but also the clergy, pastors, associate pastors, to take their leadership responsibilities seriously.

And this might be something that the church in Boston can actually contribute to not only the church in the United States, but perhaps even to the church around the world, where there’s typically been a problem with the Catholic laity being excessively passive and yielding responsibilities in all decision making to the hierarchy in a way that’s inappropriate, especially in light of Catholic doctrine and in light of the teachings of the second Vatican Council.

STEVE KRUEGER: Ray, could I just –

RAY SUAREZ: Please, go ahead.

STEVE KRUEGER: I would like to make one very important point, that the magnitude of the crisis here within the Boston archdiocese is attributable to the release of the personnel files of the priests who were involved in committing acts of clergy sexual abuse.

It seems reasonable to believe that there was nothing particular in the drinking water here in the archdiocese that created that environment. And we have every reason to believe that if the personnel files of all the dioceses across the country of priests who had committed acts of clergy sexual abuse, that similar crises would also be present in those dioceses. And that’s why it is not enough to have the bishop or the hierarchy state that they have put policies in place.

We are in a new era of the Catholic church, where the old paradigm of pray, pay and obey is no longer in effect. The Catholic laity have to step forward, and they– to acknowledge their responsibilities to the church, to hold the hierarchy accountable to their pastoral responsibilities and to view themselves as part of the greater solution to these problems that confront the church today.

RAY SUAREZ: Steve Krueger, gentlemen, thank you all.