58 Priests Ask Boston Cardinal to Step Down in Abuse Scandal

Their letter to Law says the clergy, people ‘have lost confidence’ in him as a spiritual leader
Los Angeles Times, Dec. 11, 2002
By Elizabeth Mehren, Times Staff Writer

BOSTON — In a display of defiance, 58 priests from the Boston Archdiocese have sent a letter to Cardinal Bernard Law, demanding that he resign.

“While this is obviously a difficult request, we believe in our hearts that this is a necessary step that must be taken if healing is to come to the archdiocese,” the letter stated. “The priests and people of Boston have lost confidence in you as their spiritual leader.”

The three-paragraph letter was hand-delivered late Monday to Law’s mansion in Brighton, where the nation’s fourth-largest archdiocese has its headquarters. Law is in Rome, holding meetings at the Vatican about the clerical sexual abuse crisis roiling the church in Boston and around the country.

Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said Tuesday that she could not say whether Law had read the letter, but added that “a letter between brother priests and their bishop would be reviewed carefully.”

Stephen Pope, chair of the theology department at Boston College, called the priests’ letter “as close to rebellion as you can get.”

“This is something they never do,” he added. “Even for one priest to speak up against a bishop is unheard of, but to have so many.”

A statement from the Vatican press office said the purpose of Law’s visit was “to inform the Holy See about various aspects of the situation.”

Morrissey refused to discuss the substance of the meetings, which continued Tuesday, and said she did not know when Law would return. When Law made a similar unannounced visit to Rome in April, his offer to resign was rebuffed.

The intensity of the nearly yearlong clerical abuse crisis escalated in Boston in the last week as a flood of once-confidential church documents described abuses by priests ranging from rape to drug use to fathering children with married women.

Files released late Monday contained a notation that one priest, Father William Scanlan, “fools around with kids.” Scanlan was accused of raping a 12-year-old girl in his parish in 1997, but no criminal charges were filed. He was most recently assigned to work in San Jose, but his current whereabouts are unknown.

Public outrage also mounted as financial advisors authorized the archdiocese to file for bankruptcy rather than settle close to 500 lawsuits brought by sexual abuse victims.

That development, combined with the other problems, prompted almost 10% of Boston’s active-duty priests to take the bold step of calling for their cardinal to step down.

Although some priests have privately expressed disappointment with Law for transferring pedophile priests from parish to parish, the letter marked the first formal call for his resignation from priests who serve under him.

“It was not an easy thing to do, unprecedented in American Catholicism,” said Father Robert Bullock of Sharon, south of Boston. “But this crisis is unprecedented.”

Bullock, a member of the leadership council of an emergent group called the Boston Priests’ Forum, said the prospect of bankruptcy was “a disgrace, almost blasphemous because it so contradicts our theology. We believe the church is Christ, and the church is the people. To say the church is bankrupt is outrageous. That is like saying that Christ and the people are bankrupt.”

The 250-member Boston Priests’ Forum will meet Friday to discuss asking Law to resign, Bullock said.

In addition, Boston-area members of Voice of the Faithful — a new group that advocates increased participation by Catholic laity in church matters — will vote today on whether to ask Law to give up his post.

In another development, a lawyer for retired priest Paul Shanley contacted Middlesex County Dist. Atty. Martha Coakley to say his client will post bail of $300,000. Attorney Frank Mondano “said it will happen, probably this week,” Coakley spokesman Seth Horowitz said.

Shanley, who has been held since May on 10 counts of child rape, is scheduled to appear in court today for procedural motions.

The 71-year-old priest has been a key figure in the church crisis since documents released last spring described his relationships with boys in church education classes as well as his endorsement of “man-boy love.”

Mondano did not return a call to his office Tuesday.

If Shanley does post bail, he would be released from jail immediately, Horowitz said. However, Shanley would be required to surrender his passport and would be barred from unsupervised visits with children under 16, Horowitz said,

Shanley’s trial date is pending.

The sexual abuse scandal also gripped New Hampshire’s only archdiocese, where the bishop announced a settlement Tuesday with state law enforcement officials.

Bishop John B. McCormack, a former top aide to Law whose name appears on many of the documents released in Boston in the last week, admitted that the diocese of Manchester probably would have been convicted of failing to protect children from sexually abusive priests.

“The 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 conference.

In averting criminal prosecution following an investigation that began in February, New Hampshire Atty. Gen. Philip McLaughlin said the Manchester diocese agreed to allow state prosecutors to audit its handling of sexual abuse cases over the next five years.

McLaughlin said his inquiry confirmed reports of molestation involving more than 40 priests. The attorney general praised the mostly male victims — now in their 40s and 50s — for discussing the “abject humiliation” of being molested by major figures of authority.

“While they suffered grievously as children — and I suspect many suffered grievously as adults — their willingness to assist us here will protect children,” McLaughlin said. “This is a gift they gave us.”

Vacation? Short break? Day trip? Get Skip-the-line tickets at GetYourGuide.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)

Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday December 11, 2002.
Last updated if a date shows here:


More About This Subject


Our website includes affiliate links, which means we get a small commission -- at no additional cost to you -- for each qualifying purpose. For instance, as an Amazon Associate, Religion News Blog earns from qualifying purchases. That is one reason why we can provide this research service free of charge.

Speaking of which: One way in which you can support us — at no additional cost to you — is by shopping at Amazon.com.