"Rebuilding in Boston"
by James Keenan, SJ
(Reprinted with permission from the author from
the London Tablet, 4 January 2003, pp. 7-8. )
THERE were no massive demonstrations in Boston against its archbishop
in the days before the Pope accepted his resignation. But under
the surface, a revolution had occurred, a shift in loyalties so
great that it became impossible for the Pope to keep him on.
No ideology governs the movement that brought about Cardinal Bernard
Law's resignation. But as they fought to rebuild the Church in the
midst of the abuse scandals, people here in Boston formed new kinds
of relationships. A new way of being the Church emerged.
Imagine what it has been like reading the Boston Globe every day.
It began a year ago: shocking stories of priests' crimes against
children and their cover-up by the hierarchy. Gradually the opposition
to the cardinal's administration took shape and coalesced. The victims
were the first to act when a small number of them pushed for disclosure
of the archdiocese's records. They found themselves joined by other
victims, who had now been empowered to acknowledge the harm that
was brought on them and were able to come forward in part because
of the courage and tenacity of the original group.
The victims formed several support organizations, of which SNAP
(Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) was possibly the
most important. This organization has continued to help the rest
of us see how much the bodies and souls of these victims have been
shattered and how many lives ended. Here in Boston they have persuasively
gained our attention.
Then there were the professionals. Three key organizations came
into play: the Massachusetts state attorney-general's office, which
had the intelligence and will to subpoena diocesan records; the
judicial system in the person of the no-nonsense judge, Constance
Sweeney, who resisted motions to block disclosure of those records;
and the Boston Globe, which published them. Without the subpoenas
and the subsequent judicial decisions, none of these cases would
have been made public.
Lay Catholics, like the victims, formed their own support group,
the Voice of the Faithful (VOTF). Their original intention was simply
to give lay Catholics a place to gather, engage in dialogue and
participate in the life of the Church. There are now more than 25,000
members of VOTF. VOTF members seek to create right relationships
in the Church.
Thus, when the leader of a small counter-group ("Faithful Voice")
wrote an opinion essay in the Globe insinuating that VOTF held unorthodox
positions, VOTF's leadership responded by inviting the writer into
their meetings. Their unrelenting move toward inclusion and dialogue
stands in evident contrast to those who oppose them.
When VOTF members held their first national convention last summer,
their credibility was being undermined, predictably, by the chancery.
In response, a group of theologians wrote a statement signed by
other theologians supporting VOTF's right to exist as a church organisation.
Today, only a few bishops have challenged their authority, but whenever
one of them does, VOTF grows.
Emphasizing tolerance and dialogue, the group has emerged as a
standard for church leadership. At last summer's convention, one
victim thanked those present for their support, but then pointedly
asked, "Where were you earlier?" At that point, the laity no longer
saw the victims as children, but as adults. Not only did VOTF subsequently
respond to the challenging question but, what was more important,
it learnt never to speak for the victims. It would support the victims
who spoke for themselves.
The clergy, too, like the victims and the laity, organized themselves
into a support group, the Boston Priests' Forum (BPF). But the degree
of emphasis on collegiality, co-operation, process, and communication
that is so evident among Boston's laity has not yet measurably materialized
among the clergy. Instead, the word "fractured" is commonly used
to express their way of being related one to another.
It is the laity who have prompted the clergy to speak out, and
the laity who have supported priests when they have done so. This
affirmation has been necessary. One pastor wrote me: "I have felt
that Law's resignation was necessary to honor the demands of the
faithful for a fresh start pastorally and spiritually. From that
moment on, my parishioners have shared very forthrightly their feelings,
thoughts and requirements as this awful mess unfolded."
The clergy seem more at ease with their own congregations than
with one another. As one priest said: "I was trained in the seminary.
They kept telling us that we were leaders. But they only taught
us to follow." Having been trained by such a profoundly top-down
management and having spent an entire year without any effective
leadership, the clergy have not yet honed their communication skills
among one another.
In a time of fear and confusion, the absence of effective communication
breeds distrust. Word is that the new leader of the archdiocese,
Bishop Richard Lennon, will acknowledge the confusion and call us
together to be more communicative and trustful. But in this, as
in so much else that has transpired, we clergy are trailing behind
During this past year, the call to listen, participate, communicate,
and organise in response to the abuse crisis was found at every
level of the archdiocese except in the chancery. For if one charism
captures the legacy of Cardinal Law, it is his loyalty to the Vatican.
This principle informed his conscience and led him at times into
confrontation with others, even his fellow bishops.
On several occasions he publicly challenged the late Archbishop
of Chicago, Cardinal Joseph Bernardin, and opposed his Common Ground
project, which was designed to facilitate dialogue among bishops,
theologians, laity and clergy. Law opposed the initiative because
he did not want to see any compromise of Catholic fealty to magisterial
teaching. He believed that loyalty to the Church's teaching and
leadership was in a class of its own and could never be jeopardized,
especially not by dialogue.
That same loyalty to the Vatican would not allow him to let the
dignity of the Church appear tarnished on his watch. He could be
more loyal to a predatory priest who repeatedly repented, then went
on to abuse again, than he would be to an intelligent young responsible
priest who in conscience acknowledged his doubts about the Vatican's
teaching on birth control. And, because of that loyalty to the Vatican
and its image, the cardinal could worry more about a criminally
violent priest being discovered than about the harm he caused to
a 10-year-old boy or girl. Loyalty to the Vatican has been pre-eminently
the standard by which our archdiocese of Boston has been governed
for these past 18 years.
So if Law was so loyal to the Vatican, why was his resignation
accepted by the Pope? Right after the cardinal's resignation, John
Paul II's biographer, Dr George Weigel, offered his own answer.
"I don't think this was done in response to agitations of various
sorts", he was reported as saying in the New York Times on 15 December.
He explained: "It is now clear that when a man has lost the capacity
to lead and to govern, changes in leadership will be made." He went
on: "Authority in the Catholic Church is conferred by ordination.
It is not given by the people." And: "The Catholic Church does not
operate by opinion polls."
According to Weigel, the resignation resulted from Law's inability
to govern. Weigel used the same standard in April when the cardinals
were meeting in the Vatican. Asked if Law should resign, Weigel
answered that he had to show he could govern. Nearly nine months
later, Weigel believes that Law failed the test.
Weigel is widely respected by bishops and cardinals both in the
United States and in the Vatican, and his assessment is an important
indicator of conservative thinking. His idea of governance is not
very different from Law's: a leadership that tolerates little diversity
and defends and promotes orthodoxy. Weigel wants Law's "one-way
loyalty" to the Vatican, but he also wants a loyal Law who can "govern".
Like Law, but unlike Bernardin, Weigel's preferred model is of a
Church built on the ideology of magisterial teaching. But Bernardin
was more successful with dialogue than was Law with his type of
In Boston, we can no longer imagine good teaching without accountability.
We have learned that wisdom comes from ethical living, respect for
persons, and the continued willingness to learn. In Boston we need
a wise leader who can respond to the victims of abuse with a credible
repentance accompanied by equitable settlements, and who can enter
into dialogue with the organizations formed by the victims, the
laity and the clergy. We need someone who is wise enough to see
the need to be as loyal to the people of the Boston archdiocese
as he is to the Vatican. We need someone who promotes the Vatican
but who at the same time defends the rights of the victims to redress,
of the laity to participate and of the clergy to articulate what
they hear from their people. In a manner of speaking, we need someone
who can win our own loyalty back.
We feel betrayed, not only by the cardinal, but by those to whom
he was answerable. Why did not they help him to leave earlier? Why
did we, the victims, the laity and the clergy, with far less power,
have to adopt the positions that we did? We had to act - along with
57 other priests I signed a letter calling for Cardinal Law to resign
- because the Vatican did not.
We are watching the members of the Curia now. We want to see evidence
of their new-found wisdom. We want to know what they have learned
about governance from this crisis. So far, we see nothing new. As
they did for decades, the Curia's members are attacking the media,
gays, and theologians. Yet what has occurred in Boston will inevitably
recur elsewhere; inevitably, the Vatican will be held accountable.
In Boston, the credibility of church governance based on a one-way
loyalty to the Vatican ended with Cardinal Law's resignation. Like
everyone else, we want and need a bishop who understands that his
power rests on our own power as well as on the Vatican's. We here
in Boston have learned at least this much over the last year.