"M. Compte’s philosophy in practice might be compendiously described as Catholicism minus christianity."
Thomas Huxley, On the Physical Basis of Life
He just goes from glory to glory. The only question is why?
He first came to the attention of much of the public back in 2002 when news of the sex scandals in the Roman Catholic Church were making headlines around the world causing considerable consternation everywhere but in the Vatican. In January of that year the defrocked Boston priest, John J. Geoghan was convicted of indecent assault and battery in a case of sexual abuse of a young boy in 1991. Although that was the only conviction of Mr. Geoghan, he was accused of molesting 130 boys during the previous 30 years. To compensate victims of Mr. Geoghan’s frolics, the archdiocese of Boston paid out $130 million. Thanks to the efforts of two doctors and a Cardinal, Mr. Geoghan was free to continue his ministry for many more years,
Cardinal Bernard Law was in charge of Mr. Geoghan. Cardinal Law became aware of the priest’s propensity for engaging in sexual abuse of boys in the early 1980s but exercised discretion and permitted him to continue in the capacity of priest-as-predator because he had received psychiatric treatment in 1984. According to a story in the Boston Globe at that time, the psychiatric treatment was administered by a general practitioner with no background in psychotherapy or psychiatry and a physician with no experience in dealing with sex offenders. In that respect the physicians were very much like Cardinal Law.
During Cardinal Law’s tenure more than 600 people claimed to have been abused. (In fairness to the Vatican it must be observed that it responded to the sex abuse scandal in 2001 by issuing a set of rules, albeit in Latin, to be followed by churches around the world when dealing with pedophilic priests. It said they should be tried in secret ecclesiastical courts and their offenses not publicly acknowledged or announced. )
In December of 2002, Cardinal Law decided to resign for the good of the Church. He moved out of the $20 million three story church –owned house in which he had humbly lived in a manner befitting a man of the cloth. He moved to Clinton, Md. where he brought comfort to the Sisters of Mercy of Alma by serving as their chaplain. For a man of his stature that was a modest post and in 2004 it was reported that he was being rewarded for his years of faithful service by being made the archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, one of the four most important basilicas in that city. A Vatican spokesman said he would “be in charge of the administration of the priests and anything related to the basilica.”
Although it must have been hard for the good Cardinal to leave his beloved United States, the move was not without its compensation. He was put up in quarters described as palatial, a “classical Roman apartment with frescoes on the wall.” (By contrast his Boston successor lived in more modest quarters, the $20 million house having been sold to raise a portion of the millions that the church paid out to victims of priests who served under his supervision.
Some might have thought that such great good fortune bestowed on one who presided over one of the church’s greatest sex abuse scandals would have been reward enough to last a lifetime. It was not to be. A heady time was in store for the good Cardinal following the death of John Paul II.
In addition to a long interview on ABC news and lots of photo opportunities, he was invited to the United States Embassy reception for President and Mrs. Bush. Since Mr. Bush does not read newspapers, he was probably unaware of the Cardinal’s executive infirmities. In addition, the Cardinal’s colleagues who arranged events for the week following Pope John Paul II’s funeral selected him to preside over one of the funeral Masses to be conducted during that week which include delivering that day’s homily. It was not only an honor but demonstrated that his colleagues did not bear any grudges for his lax governing style while serving in Boston. Not everyone was as forgiving.
Ann Hagan Webb, a regional coordinator of the “Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests” said of Cardinal Law that “he protected priests at the expense of children over and over and over again, and this symbolically said: ‘We don’t care about these children; we’d rather honor him.’” It turns out she’s wrong. According to a report in the New York Times, when asked whether his role in the sex scandal entered into the decision to give him new visibility, the Vatican spokesperson said: “I don’t think so.” Perhaps it should have.
Christopher Brauchli can be reached at email@example.com. See his website at http://humanraceandothersports.com