Sunday, April 14, 2002

A Break in Policy

For a couple of days now, I have been thinking about breaking my self-imposed ban on commenting on the scandals, particularly those of the Archdiocese of Boston. I'm still not sure I should, but here goes anyway.

I have found it hard to follow the scandal because it is painful. I lived in the Archdiocese of Boston for three years, have met Cardinal Law on several occasions, and have many friends among the priests, religious brothers and laity of that archdiocese. They are suffering deeply and the drum beat of this scandal is relentless.

The focus of everyone's ire is rightly on Cardinal Law. It is clear by now that he has made serious errors in judgment. Should he resign? I think so. Apparently, though, so did he. From the reports, he tendered his resignation to Rome but it was rejected. If that is true, Amy Welborn's one-liner about Law's comments fails to consider the more charitable read: "I don't think I should still be Archbishop, but if I must, my desire is ....". Still, maybe I am being too charitable.

The one thing we all have to admit is that this problem isn't resolved by Cardinal Law's resignation. It won't be solved by a flurry of "problem awareness" conferences, studies and new policies on sexual misconduct. The problem will only be resolved by bishops rediscovering their calling as shepherds.

How to accomplish that? I'm not convinced that the call for every bishop's head is the best method. Maybe it is what's needed to get them to recognize the problem, but I don't know. A collective, formal protest by withholding donations on a given Sunday, as suggested by Michael DuBruiel, is another possibility. Maybe Cardinal Law should force the Vatican's hand by announcing his resignation anyway. I really don't have answers to this question. All I know is that pinning all our hopes for positive change on a resignation is naive.

And it is possible that change can come through Cardinal Law. Need I remind everyone that our first pope denied Christ three times during His passion or that the great apostle St. Paul was a great persecutor of Christians before Damascus? We may not see such a conversion and renewal this time, but we should certainly hope and pray for one.

My real concern is with how Catholics are letting this scandal affect them. We do have some control over that, after all. We need to ask ourselves whether our focus is on what is best for the Church or an unconscious personal need to see this man go as some sort of vindication. We are hurting, yes, but our faith must have deeper roots than the good behavior of the episcopacy. I worry that the media is forcing us to apply a simple-minded political analysis to this problem that ultimately is going to leave Catholics indifferent and skeptical of every bishop.

I hope the bishops are listening. As I said above, I do think that Law should resign. But what we really need is a new pentecost. The shape it ultimately takes (bishops resigning, etc.) is secondary.

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