Archdiocese Actions Fail to Mollify Boston Parishioners

By Pamela Ferdinand
The Washington Post [Boston MA]
May 25, 2003

BOSTON -- Five months after the resignation of Cardinal Bernard F. Law, the Boston archdiocese appears to be scoring high marks for style, but little for substance among Roman Catholics here at the center of the clergy sexual abuse scandal.

The archdiocese received praise for holding a five-week period of prayer in which interim Bishop Richard G. Lennon called for "reconciliation, contrition, healing and unity." Church officials have ousted alleged pedophile priests and implemented new abuse prevention programs. And, in what some believe could be the most significant step to date, the archdiocese announced plans to post details of part of its budget on the Internet this month.

Yet much remains to be done, say many Catholic parishioners and priests. A moratorium on litigation involving hundreds of clergy sexual abuse cases was extended Friday by 30 days, with no settlement in sight, even as the Manchester diocese in New Hampshire was announcing that it had reached a $6.5 million agreement to resolve most of the claims against it.

Many Catholics say abuse survivors here still need healing, and many priests are demoralized. The leading lay reform group remains marginalized, despite public support. Mass attendance is down, along with contributions.

Church finances are in peril. Archdiocesan leaders have said they will cut next year's budget by 20 percent. That is on top of a 30 percent cut in this year's spending. The reductions have meant employee layoffs and school closings and less money for ministerial programs.

How much Lennon can do is unclear, church observers say, because he is a temporary caretaker and it is unclear how much authority the Vatican has given him until a successor to Law is named.

Lennon's warm and modest demeanor contrasts sharply with that of Law, who many parishioners here view as aloof and sometimes arrogant. Law moved to a convent in Clinton in Prince George's County after resigning in December amid criticism of his handling of priest pedophiles.

But many parishioners, priests and others say they are frustrated at the slow pace of reform after the post-Law promise of renewal, and their confidence in church leadership continues to erode.

"We were hoping the scenario would be that [Lennon] would kind of clean up the mess before a permanent archbishop would be appointed, and certainly come to a settlement with victims. He hasn't done that yet," said Thomas Groome, professor of religious education and incoming director of Boston College's pastoral institute. "The general image is that the same players are in place, and the ancien regime is still in power, and there isn't much evidence to the contrary."

The Rev. Christopher Coyne, the archdiocesan spokesman, did not return calls to his office. But Lennon, in asking for the extended moratorium on litigation, reiterated a commitment to "reaching a fair and equitable resolution" of outstanding claims.

In a recent Boston Globe poll of 400 Boston-area Catholics, three-quarters said a settlement should be the church's top priority, and most want to see Law prosecuted for his failure to remove alleged abusers from ministry. More than 60 percent expressed support for Voice of the Faithful, the lay reform group that has been banned from some church properties, and most said the group's donations should be accepted by the archdiocese. In addition, 62 percent of those polled said the scandal caused them to lose confidence in their church as an institution.

"I don't know that [church leaders] really understand that they come under the same laws as the rest of us," said poll respondent Susan Bonner, 60, of Nahant, Mass.

Many Catholics say their underlying faith remains strong but that they will not give money directly to the church until it provides for a greater degree of financial accountability and lay representation.

Archdiocese Chancellor David Smith told the Globe earlier this month that line items from the archdiocese's 2003 budget would be posted on the Internet and through media outlets by May 21, followed by excerpts from next year's budget. That information, which had not been posted as of the end of last week will not cover affiliates, such as Catholic Charities, or individual employee salaries, Smith said.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.