|‘Smoking gun’ in church crisis?
||Pope’s 1999 order directed Law on how to
handle a sex offender in
|Dec. 11— Boston's Cardinal
Law is in Rome, where the Vatican is defending him
even while some Catholics, priests among them, are
calling for his resignation. WHDH-TV's Victoria
MSNBC STAFF AND WIRE
|Dec. 11 — As pressure continued to
build Wednesday for Cardinal Bernard Law to resign
as head of the Boston archdiocese, critics said
they had uncovered a “smoking gun” that shows Law
and other U.S. Catholic leaders accused of
covering up sex abuse allegations were acting on
GROUP called the Coalition of Catholics and Survivors said
Tuesday it had come across the document from among the
thousands of personnel files that the Boston archdiocese made
public last week. A court hearing lawsuits against the
archdiocese had ordered the release.
Joseph Gallagher, a co-founder of the group, said the
document was the “smoking gun” that spelled out a Vatican
policy of placing image ahead of child welfare.
In the document, Pope John Paul II says a
defrocked Catholic priest who had a history of molesting boys
should leave the areas where his “condition” was known — or
stay put as long as it caused no scandal.
“That would explain why [other] bishops have done
the same thing as Cardinal Law — they’ve moved sexual
offenders from parish to parish without notifying the
parishioners,” Gallagher said.
The May 25, 1999, document is a translation of Pope John
Paul II’s order removing Robert Burns, a convicted pedophile,
from the priesthood.
Morrissey, a Boston archdiocese spokeswoman, said she could
not comment on matters of litigation.
PRIESTS URGE RESIGNATION
Law himself is at the Vatican, consulting with officials
on how to handle the lawsuits. One option would be for the
archdiocese to declare bankruptcy.
The cardinal is also facing growing pressure to
“The events of recent
months and, in particular, of these last few days, make it
clear to us that your position as our bishop is so compromised
that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the
spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston,” 58
Boston-area priests wrote in a letter released
“It’s as close to an
open revolt as priests can come,” Stephen Pope, chairman of
the Theology Department at Boston College, told Reuters. “It’s
not that they’re taking to the streets with torches, but this
is something they never do.”
on Burns contained not only lurid revelations about the
priest’s behavior but also said Law told the Vatican that his
archdiocese had assigned Burns to two parishes even though it
knew of his “proclivity” toward molesting boys.
In his 1999 order defrocking Burns, the
pope said the former priest “ought to live away from the
places where his previous condition is known.”
But the pope’s order also offered the
man’s religious superior an alternative to forcing Burns to
abandon the areas where his condition was known.
The religious superior “is able to
dispense from this clause of the decree if it is foreseen that
the presence of the suppliant will cause no scandal,” the
‘WHAT ABOUT THE
MacLeish, a Boston attorney who last week released the
archdiocese’s file on Burns along with those of other priests
accused of sexual misconduct, said the order is noteworthy not
only because it’s relatively recent but also because of its
use of the word “scandal.”
for the first time we’ve seen documents from the Vatican that
emphasize the word that we’ve seen so often here in Boston:
‘scandal,’” MacLeish said.
document says he is to be relocated to another place where
presumably they wouldn’t know about him, unless the bishop or
the cardinal of the appropriate diocese determines it will
cause no scandal,” he said. “What about the
MacLeish has said the
files, which a judge ordered the archdiocese to turn over,
help prove a central claim in his lawsuits against the
archdiocese — that the church reassigned priests accused of
sexual abuse without warning parishioners.
‘PROPENSITY WAS KNOWN’
The pope’s order came in response to a memo Law
wrote to the Vatican in which he explained that the
archdiocese had assigned Burns to two Boston-area parishes
even though it had been advised by a center for troubled
priests that the man should not be given a job that would put
him in contact with children because of his history.
propensity was known to officials within the Archdiocese of
Boston, but overlooked in favor of Father Burns’ solemn
assurance of his ability to control his impulses,” according
to the cardinal’s memo.
time the memo was written, the archdiocese said it was aware
of at least six young men whom Burns allegedly molested while
he worked in Boston between 1982 and 1991.
Burns came to Boston from the diocese of
Youngstown, Ohio, where his problem had been
Burns pleaded guilty in
1996 to criminal charges that he had sexually assaulted two
boys in New Hampshire. He was sentenced to two consecutive
four- to eight-year terms in jail.
Boston, nearby New Hampshire has also been embroiled in the
controversy. On Tuesday, state Attorney General Philip
McLaughlin announced an unprecedented settlement in which the
Diocese of Manchester would avoid prosecution by agreeing to
submit to supervision of its handling of sexual-abuse
complaints for the next five years.
In the settlement, which also has provisions to protect
children from abuse in the future and calls for full
disclosure of past abuses, Bishop John McCormack signed a
statement that said the diocese “acknowledges the state has
evidence likely to sustain a conviction” under the state’s
child endangerment statute.
church in New Hampshire fully acknowledges and accepts
responsibility for failures in our system that contributed to
the endangerment of children,” McCormack said at a news
McLaughlin said he
had confirmed reports of molestation involving more than 40
priests and was prepared to bring charges based on five or six
of them, involving about 30 victims.
But he said he agreed to drop a prosecution to spare the
victims, some of whom were as young as 10 years old when they
were molested, from having to testify in a courtroom in front
of their tormenters.
the abject humiliation of people who today are asked to
reflect on things done to them as children over which they had
no control whatsoever,” he said.
The settlement is the only one reached so far under the
imminent threat of criminal indictment of a diocese.
The investigation was triggered by the
flood of allegations against Boston-area priests beginning
late last year. Some of the alleged abuses occurred in New
Hampshire or involved priests or victims who had lived in both
states at some point.
was already a key figure in the church scandal because he was
a top aide to Law before becoming bishop of Manchester in
The scandal has focused
on Law, and after an outcry earlier this year for his
resignation, the cardinal appeared to be making strides toward
restoring public confidence. But the personnel files released
last week unleashed a torrent of criticism from once-loyal
parishioners and priests.
lost his diocese,” said the Rev. Robert Bullock, a leader of
the Boston Priests Forum, a group that represents about half
of the 600 or so priests in the archdiocese. “He’s in hiding.
He can’t appear in public here. We need new leadership.”
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BOND FOR PRIEST ON TRIAL
Law and the Boston archdiocese could see more bad
The Rev. Paul Shanley posted
$300,000 cash bail on Wednesday. Shanley, 71, has been charged
in Boston with 10 counts of child rape and six counts of
indecent assault and battery for allegedly abusing boys at a
church in Newton from 1979 to 1989.
A former Boston Archdiocese leader, the Rev. Thomas
Daily, now the bishop of Brooklyn, N.Y., said in a sworn
deposition that the church knew Shanley had advocated sex
between men and boys when it promoted him to lead a parish in
Voice of the Faithful, a lay group
of Catholics, said members planned to vote Wednesday night on
three separate resolutions calling on Law to resign, asking
Pope John Paul II to appoint another bishop, and asking the
U.S. Conference of Bishops to follow through on their pledge
to hold bishops accountable.
“The damage that’s happened in Boston is not just
local,” said Jim Post, president of the group. “It has
affected confidence in bishops everywhere. The question is
there now: What secrets are there in our church
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed
to this report.
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