Benedict's decision to bypass Boston disappointsclergy's victims
Monday, April 14,2008
BY TOM FEENEYStar-Ledger Staff
The scandal of clergy sex abuse has dominated the affairs ofthe Roman Catholic Church in America for much of thisdecade. Will it be a dominant theme this week when PopeBenedict XVI arrives for the first U.S. visit of his papacy?
The Vatican clearly hopes not. Its spokesman, the Rev.Federico Lombardi, told reporters in Rome last week that thepope would focus on religious and moral values during thetrip.
And the pope said during a videotaped message that thepurpose of the trip was "to proclaim this great truth:Jesus Christ is hope for men and women of every language,race, culture and social condition."
Though Vatican officials have not said so, they have sentstrong signals that they want to minimize the role the abusescandal plays during the pope's visit.
One signal is to be found in the pope's itinerary.
The Boston Archdiocese -- ground zero in the sex abusescandal -- tried to persuade the pope to visit there duringhis U.S. trip. Some believed a visit to Boston could havesent a strong signal that the pope wanted to help heal thedamage done by the scandal.
But it was a bitter disappointment to many abuse victimswhen it was announced last fall that the pope would visitonly New York and Washington.
"As to why he's not going to Boston, theofficial answer is that he's 80 ... and can't goeverywhere," said John L. Allen Jr., a seniorcorrespondent for the National Catholic Reporter and theauthor of a Benedict biography. "That's certainlypart of the picture, but unofficially, it's also clearthat organizers did not want to make the crisis the dominantstory of the trip."
Another signal can be found in the list of church leaderswho will accompany the pope on his U.S. visit.
That list, provided by the U.S. Conference of CatholicBishops, includes the name of every American cardinal inRome except one, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the archbishop ofBoston during the height of the abuse scandal.
"My suspicion is that there was never any seriousconsideration of Law accompanying the pope -- on both sidesof the water, everyone understands what a public relationsdebacle that would be," Allen said.
In early 2002, diocesan documents released to the publicby court order revealed that Law had shielded abusivepriests by moving them from parish to parish. He became asymbol of the failure of the Catholic leadership to addressthe problem.
Later that year, Law resigned his post and moved to Rome.Today, he serves as the leader of the Basilica of St. MaryMajor and the holder of offices in eight departments of theRoman Curia. He remains a lightning rod for criticism in theUnited States.
"Law accompanying the pope would certainly haverubbed even more salt into the already deep and still freshwounds of hundreds of thousands of America's Catholicsand tens of thousands of America's clergy sex abusevictims," said David Clohessy, the national director ofSNAP, the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
Leaving Law out of the entourage does not signal a newsensitivity on the issue on the Vatican's part,Clohessy said.
"The church's highest ranking official livesclose to and works closely with the world's mostdiscredited and deceitful cardinal in the literal andfigurative power center of Catholicism. That alone isextraordinarily callous and speaks volumes about theVatican's continuing tolerance of clergy sexcover-ups," he said.
Though he has taken steps to minimize the attentionplaced on abusive priests during his visit, the pope is notlikely to ignore the issue altogether.
Vatican officials have said Benedict will talk about theabuse scandal Saturday, when he celebrates Mass for Americanclergy at St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York.
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican'ssecond-highest-ranking official, told the Associated Presslast week that Benedict would "try to open the path ofhealing and reconciliation" with his comments.
Allen said he expects the pope to express remorse aboutthe abuse and hope that the church will recover from it.
"That will be a welcome message for some," hesaid. "I suspect those most scarred by the crisis,especially the victims, will likely be disappointed that thepope isn't saying and doing more."
Clohessy, of SNAP, said he will be satisfied only if thepope announces specific, proven reforms.
The Voice of the Faithful, a Boston-based lay group thatgrew out of the abuse scandal, would like to see the popereach out to abuse victims during his visit and commit togreater accountability for the damage the clergy abuse hascaused, said its president, Dan Bartley.
"It is very difficult for American Catholics toaccept the fact that after thousands of victims and $2.3billion in payments, only one bishop has resigned,"Bartley said. "How can our church be a moral beaconwhen so many bishops who repeatedly transferred knownabusers remain in office? Tom Feeney may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org (973)392-1790.