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"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 the laity.

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 loyalty.

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.







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