By Jim Smith
BOSTON — The scandal that has left the Catholic Church in Boston reeling from revelations that scores of priests have sexually molested boys for decades has prompted a “zero tolerance” policy from Cardinal Bernard Law, the archbishop of Boston, who has turned over to law enforcement authorities the names of at least 80 current and former priests alleged to have molested children.
The sex scandal broke in January with news reports that former priest John Geoghan had been moved for years from parish to parish in Boston and surrounding communities despite repeated complaints that he had molested young boys.
Geoghan, who is now 66, was recently convicted of fondling a 10-year-old boy. He also faces two more trials, including one for allegedly raping another young boy in the early 1980s.
About 130 men now say that Geoghan molested them as children while he was serving in six parishes from the late 1960s into the ’90s. Those allegations are contained in about 90 civil lawsuits filed against him and the Catholic Church.
Cardinal Law and five bishops are named in many of the suits as having negligently allowed the accused priest to continue as a clergyman despite knowing of his history. The cardinal has publicly admitted that he made “tragic mistakes” by relying on clinical evaluations that had concluded that Geoghan was unlikely to re-offend.
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Amid calls for his resignation from newspaper columnists and angry callers to radio talk-shows, Law told parishioners Sunday during Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross that he has no intention of stepping down. He has led the Archdiocese of Boston since 1984.
“I have the ability to do something as bishop to make things better for the future, and I think that it would not serve that cause of protecting children if I were, at this point, to submit my resignation to the Holy Father,” he told the congregation.
The cardinal’s new get-tough policy is considered too little, too late by many victims and their families, but some priests and civil libertarians say that he is going too far in handing over to authorities the names of any priest against whom an allegation of sexual abuse was made.
In his homily Sunday, Cardinal Law said: “We have reviewed the files of hundreds upon hundreds of priests going back 50 years. We have reported to the public authorities the names of every priest whom we know to have been accused of the sexual molestation of a minor, and, to the best of my knowledge, there is no such person holding assignment in this archdiocese now.”
The controversy has polarized many in the Boston area, with some calling for the cardinal’s resignation and a major overhaul of the Catholic church, while others are suggesting that the media frenzy is being generated by enemies of the church.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the Vatican Raymond Flynn, who is now a radio talk-show host in Boston, told the Echo Monday that Cardinal Law should look to the laity for inspiration and wisdom during this crisis.
“He should take a grass-roots approach and get out to the parish councils,” Flynn said. “He’s got some fair-weather friends with a lot of money who will sell him out now that he’s taking the heat. His real friends are sitting out there in the pews, not at the head tables.”
Flynn said that the cardinal and Catholics in general should focus on the issue at hand and not get swept up in the media hysteria.
“The cardinal has got to make the protection of minors the centerpiece of any policy change, and once that’s established I’m sure the church will get back on track again despite the frustration and disappointment we’re all feeling,” Flynn said.
On Sunday, Law said that the archdiocese hopes to create a center for the protection of children and to develop better outreach programs for victims of clergy abuse and their families.