Heroes amidst the scandal

By Ellen Ratner

This week, 58 Boston-area Catholic priests did more to emulate the moral courage of the early church fathers (and mothers) than anything the American Catholic bishops have done in the last 25 years – they put their careers on the line and signed a public letter asking for the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law from the Boston Archdiocese.

The next day, 12 more area priests joined them. And all of this before Cardinal Law, now at the Vatican, has even met with the pope. If the holy father confirms Law in his position, these brave priests have put themselves in a tough spot. Good priests don’t get paid the Big Bucks, they don’t get medals and they don’t get their faces on the cover of Fortune or Newsweek. They took risks for the right, and for that, they are true heroes.

Cardinal Law has sadly continued what I hope will be one of the Church’s shortest lived traditions – covering up decades of child molestation by some priests under his supervision. It was actually worse than even this. The crimes of these sex molesters and child abusers were not just covered up, but the criminals themselves were simply transferred to other parishes – as if a change of address is a recognized treatment for pedophilia!

But slowly the chickens have come home to roost. Many of the abuse victims grew up, raised families, had careers – and hired lawyers. The first cases were just a trickle. But as word spread, more and more victims decided to “out” their assailants. The courts stepped in, responding to plaintiff requests for documents, and faster than you can say, “Trent Lott is a racist buffoon,” suddenly the Boston Archdiocese found itself where it should have been all long – in the dock answering questions and paying out a lot of money. Now the good cardinal has gone to the Vatican, presumably to discuss the “situation,” but hopefully, to resign. It’s the only way that the Church will ever find its way home. If Cardinal Law really gets what he deserves, he’ll be offering the sacrament in the Enron Wing of Your Local Penitentiary.

Actually, the comparison with Enron is more than just a sarcastic cheap-shot. Just as Enron had to face the prospect of bankruptcy, so now is Cardinal Law’s Archdiocese. Just as Enron was inundated with lawsuits alleging cover-up and fraud, so is Cardinal Law’s organization. The only difference is that at Enron, the only people who were molested were shareholders and employees. One way or another, they’ll recover. You can’t say the same about the victims of child abuse.

And all this raises another, rather – ahem – mercenary issue. As long as the victims were merely hundreds of children, adolescent boys and young girls entrusted into the Church’s care, the Vatican seemed prepared to back Law to the hilt. But now, when the Church’s possible bankruptcy looms, and parishioners have reportedly begun withholding donations – big-time – suddenly, the jukebox is no longer playing that old tune of “cha-ching, cha-ching.” Now, the Church sees itself as a “victim.” And guess what? Cardinal Law may well be out of there sooner rather than later. I’ll tell you this – money not only talks, it speaks Latin!

The Mother Church is bigger than any of the occasional fathers who may stain its reputation from time to time. It’s been around a long, long time and has survived much worse than this. I sense from some of my Boston-area Catholic friends that they’ve about had it with Law’s lawlessness – he’s now known around Boston as Don Vito Law-less, Godfather of the Lavender Mob.

But, in the meantime, all Americans, whatever their religious persuasion, owe a debt to the 58 priests who put more than their signatures on that letter. I’m not Catholic, but I’m proud to breathe the same air that those men do.

It restores my faith in just about everything.

P.S. As this goes to press, word is coming down that Don Vito Law-leone has been subpoenaed by the Grand Jury in Boston. Here’s some legal advice for the cardinal in a language I know he’ll understand: Mea culpa.