One Priest Laments Lack of Leadership at the Archdiocese

By Peter Gelzinis
Boston Herald
February 20, 2003

"A strategy? I don't know," the priest sighed, "I suppose one can claim they have a strategy. And the strategy is to delay and delay . . . and then, delay some more."

He has been a local priest long enough to know something about the individual hubris that plunged his archdiocese into the current sexual abuse crisis.

When he substitutes the pronoun "they" for the men who held sway at the chancery - the superiors whose collective wisdom delivered the Archdiocese of Boston into a scandal of near biblical proportion - it is no accident. He was well aware of their egos, long before the rest of us saw them exposed in an endless series of deposition videos.

So, this priest was hardly surprised yesterday to hear the church's lawyers had failed in yet another attempt to insulate the archdiocese against the outrage of several hundred plaintiffs, who keep streaming out of the shadows with personal stories of faith perverted.

"Lawyers are calling the shots now," the priest said. "The place is in chaos, really."

Those archdiocesan lawyers were unable to convince Superior Court Judge Constance Sweeney to dismiss approximately 400 claims of sexual abuse by priests, on the grounds that the First Amendment granted the church civil immunity from intrusion by the secular courts.

What yesterday's decision made all too clear for one priest is that in the aftermath of Bernard Cardinal Law's exile to a convent in Maryland, the stone mansion on Lake Street is an empty place indeed.

"Rich Lennon is a nice guy," he said, "but he's no leader. There's the sense we're treading water right now . . . and not doing that very well. Nobody really knows what he (Bishop Lennon) is doing.

"It's not nearly enough to have him appear in those careful choreographed photo ops, show him smoking a pipe and like I said, keep suggesting he's a nice guy.

"We're in the middle of a trauma, the likes of which nobody around here has ever experienced. We can't go on conceding things to lawyers like Wilson Rogers, or that other guy . . . Owen Todd. They shouldn't be left to run the show.

"And if they've got something in the way of a plan," the priest added, "all it seems to be is tie things up in court and hope that sooner or later the plaintiffs lawyers will eventually dry up. Not much of a strategy, but there it is."

In this period of indecision, legal stonewalling and treading water, speculation has intensified on the subject of who will be selected to give direction to this wounded, rudderless diocese.

"You hear a lot of talk about the guy in St. Louis, (Archbishop Justin) Rigali," the priest said. "He's very close to the pope, spent years in the Vatican, and seems to be a likely choice to try and stop the bleeding here."

Part of that bleeding, in the view of this priest, has to do with the tango of litigation. A true leader would have to transcend the court dance, perhaps by trying to speed it toward some kind of equitable closure.

But that is only the first step. Yesterday's court decision reiterated that "Church doctrine and cannon law do not conflict with civil law on the subject of sexual abuse, particularly the sexual abuse of children."

"The whole thing is going to change," the priest said bluntly. "It simply has to. The relationship between bishops, cardinals and the people will change . . . because it must."

In a year when the church's secret files were finally unearthed, when details of hushed legal settlements were revealed and the nurturing of pedophile priests was exposed, one cleric finds himself wondering about the place and the role of the so-called "Catholic gentry."

"I'm not talking about Voice of The Faithful, or people who infuse their parishes with a deep sense of life and love," he said. "I'm talking about the people who fancy themselves as leaders . . . the elite, that circle of heavy hitters who were called to the chancery a year ago for damage control.

"Instead of crawling into the bunker, or trying to brainstorm new variations on damage control and covering your backside," the priest said, "the church could've have used more leadership from them.

"In truth, I think these so-called leaders are actually so far away from the people of the church right now, it's sad in a way. It's as if they're infected by the same virus of power that afflicts all those geniuses at the chancery who keep losing their cases in court."

It's no way to run a church.

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