Pope Seen Going Slow on Replacing Law
New Archbishop Faces Tough Job

By Julia Lieblich
Chicago Tribune [Boston MA]
January 14, 2003

When Cardinal Bernard Law resigned under pressure last month as head of the scandal-plagued archdiocese of Boston, many Catholics predicted a rapid replacement.

But as more time has passed, there is increasing agreement that Pope John Paul II will not rush into this most critical appointment for the U.S. church.

Boston's new archbishop will face a daunting task: to restore the trust of both the laity and clergy in a diocese that has stood at the center of the church's sex abuse crisis--and to win over Catholics throughout the country who see Boston as a test case of the church's commitment to reform.

The interim administrator named by the Vatican, meanwhile, has taken decisive actions in recent weeks that suggest he may be staying awhile.

In December, Bishop Richard Lennon announced that he had selected church property to sell to help settle the increasing number of priest sex abuse claims--millions of dollars' worth--that had led the archdiocese to consider bankruptcy. Lennon also asked for a moratorium on the legal fights between the church and plaintiffs' lawyers, calling instead for negotiated settlements.

"My surmise is that [he] will be in for at least a year, possibly longer, because he seems to be taking some bold initiatives," said Rev. Michael Fahey, Marquette University theology professor, though others predict a shorter stay.

Keeping Lennon in place is an attractive option because he can clean house ahead of the next leader, said Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America.

"If a new bishop comes in the first year and has to declare bankruptcy or sell a seminary or go through tough negotiations with rape victims, he'll have to live with it for the next 10 years," said Reese. "Better to have an administrator clean up the place."

Meanwhile, observers are offering no shortage of candidates from Bishop Wilton Gregory of Belleville, a serious contender, to Cardinal Francis George, a highly unlikely choice given that cardinals are rarely transferred to another archdiocese.

Other names surfacing include Archbishop Harry Flynn from St. Paul, Bishop John M. D'Arcy of Ft. Wayne-South Bend, Bishop Donald Wuerl of Pittsburgh, Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver, Bishop Thomas Doran of Rockford and Archbishop Edwin O'Brien, who leads the Archdiocese for Military Services.

The selection process begins when papal nuncio Gabriel Montalvo, 72, the Vatican's little-known representative in this country, consults with church leaders and draws up a list of three possible successors. He writes a report on their qualifications and compiles supporting written materials, such as letters from cardinals.

The Vatican's Congregation of Bishops reviews the material and recommends one person to the pope, who can ask to see more names.

"He can tell the papal nuncio to do it again," said Reese.

Fahey hopes that the process of seeking input will be broader than usual in this case.

"I would say ... there will be more consultation with the laity and priests of Boston than there have been in typical cases in recent times," he said. "People are feeling hurt. ... The word is out you need to have a serious listening process."

Whoever comes out as front-runner will have to have emerged from the scandal untarnished. He'll have to have a CEO's skills to save a diocese of 2 million from financial disaster and a pastor's patience to listen to parishioners saddened and enraged by the scandal.

"You'd certainly have to have a healer who is able to bind up the wounds people have," said Fahey. "My guess is that it will probably be somebody who is an archbishop and who is not a cardinal, but who has good credentials."

Joe Maher, the head of the Detroit-based Opus Bono Sacerdotti, a new group formed to defend accused priests, wants to see a man "who is not going to be affected by public opinion and public pressure. "Right now we've got a lot of prosecutor and victim advocates who want convictions regardless of the truth."

Rev. Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the religion magazine First Things, hopes for a bishop who is at home with traditional church teachings--"who can speak courageously and effectively on the church's language of grace and sin and repentance rather than the language of the CEO-blather or psycho-blather about healing and reconciliation."

Little consensus exists even among victims groups over who is the best candidate.

David Clohessy, of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, offers support for Gregory with reservation.

"He's certainly better than most," he said. "Years ago he was out in front of many of his colleagues in the way he helped clean up Belleville. He weathered a fairly intense media storm very well this [past] year."

Paul Baier, a founder of the lay group Voice of the Faithful and head of Survivors First, is against the appointment of Gregory, he said, "because he's been on record numerous times this year telling Catholic parents the problem was under control."

Deal Hudson, editor of the Catholic magazine Crisis, thinks Boston should look to Milwaukee for an example of a model succession. After Archbishop Rembert Weakland stepped down following his acknowledgment that he paid a man $450,000 to settle a sexual misconduct case, he was immediately replaced by Bishop Timothy Dolan, a traditionalist described as jovial and accessible.

"I think Milwaukee is a great example of how quickly a dispirited diocese can be turned around by committed and charismatic leadership," Hudson said.


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