A Loss for the Archdiocese

Boston Globe
April 2, 2003

THE ARCHDIOCESE of Boston, by refusing a contribution from Voice of the Faithful, is putting the prerogatives of its bishop over the needs of people served by Catholic social services. Bishop Richard G. Lennon ought to reconsider his decision, which will deepen the estrangement many lay people feel following the sexual abuse scandal.

Lennon's action echoes the refusal of his predecessor, Cardinal Bernard F. Law, to give up a bishop's absolute power in personnel matters, even though this authority provided the cloak for abuse by some priests. When the personnel files were finally opened under court order, they revealed a decades-long coverup that damaged the church and forced Law's resignation.

Voice of the Faithful, a lay group formed as a result of the scandal, offered its $35,000 gift with one proviso: that it not go for archdiocesan administrative expense. This was a reasonable condition given the deep feelings engendered by church administrators' mishandling of abuse cases.

Just as Law did with an earlier $56,000 donation, Lennon refused the gift but went one step further: He forbade Catholic Charities and other archdiocesan organizations with autonomy from the central administration to accept the money.

"It's a matter of how we understand ourselves as a Catholic Church," the Rev. Christopher Coyne, spokesman for Lennon, said yesterday. "Just as it would be out of order for a bishop to administer the archdiocese without consulting laity and priests, it would be out of order to fulfill the charitable mission of the church without the bishop."

Catholic Charities programs, which help poor people with an emphasis on the needs of immigrants, are in keeping with Catholic doctrine and tradition. Any gift for these endeavors should be applauded and accepted, even if the bishop does not serve as an intermediary.

A generation or so ago, Catholic Charities in Boston was completely under the control of the archbishop. Today it is overseen by a board of influential lay people. This is in keeping with the decisions of the Second Vatican Council and with the reality that lay people are ready to assume greater responsibility in the church.

The board ought to accept the money from Voice of the Faithful for the simple reason that the needs of the poor are far more important than the outcome of a jurisdictional dispute. Bishop Lennon and other archdiocesan officials ought to consider that by ceding a small amount of authority over archdiocesan finances, they may regain some of the influence the archdiocese has lost because its leaders insisted on keeping the power to quietly transfer predatory priests.

This story ran on page A18 of the Boston Globe on 4/2/2003.

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