Discontent Continues In Boston's Catholic Community

Dec 31, 1969 07:00 PM EST

BOSTON - Despite the resignation of Cardinal Bernard Law as archbishop of Boston, the Catholic Community voices outrage against the Church.

Following the resignation of Law, the Cardinal accused with numerous pedophilic charges, the Catholic Church probes through the victims' psychotherapy records. Legal experts say this tactic, where the defense attorneys can subpoena psychotherapists and their records to override patient-therapist confidentiality, is often used in cases in which plaintiffs charge emotional damage.

Infuriated, lay reform leaders try to contact Law's successor finding no response. Some priests say they are shellshocked, while many ordinary Catholics wonder if the church will ever recover.

"I am in a state of deep depression about all of this," said Terry McKiernan, 49, who calls himself a lifelong devout Catholic. "I am trying to raise my kids Catholic, and sometimes I wonder, 'What am I doing that for?' "

The newly appointed interim apostolic administrator, following Law's resignation on Dec. 13, Bishop Richard G. Lennon declined to be interviewed, but the archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey acknowledged the severity of the pedophilia convictions that began one year ago with the trial of former priest John J. Geoghan.

"Clearly the victim-survivors and the whole community have experienced a profound and serious breach of trust," Morrissey said. "It will be a long process of outreach to restore the trust that has been lost."

James E. Post, president of Voice of the Faithful, said "short-term, reactive" gestures by Lennon and the archdiocese have done little to calm the Catholic community here.

"There has been no change in policy, no change in practice, and therefore, no effective leadership," said Post, whose organization was born in a Boston-area church weeks after the scandal began. Voice of the Faithful, which advocates increased participation by the laity in church affairs, now says it has more than 25,000 members in chapters around the country.

"Bishop Lennon has retained all of the cardinal's old advisors. He is staying in the cardinal's residence. And obviously he is listening to the attorneys, the canon lawyers and the auxiliary bishops -- all the old palace guard," he said. "These are the last loyalists that Cardinal Law had, and they are right there, surrounding Bishop Lennon."

Post say the bishop Lennon had not answered e-mails, phone calls, letters or faxes from his group.

"He came in with a great deal of goodwill from all of the parties because of the difficulties he faced," Post said. "Unfortunately, he has continued to draw down on that goodwill bank account, and he has put nothing back in."

In addition to the irresponsiveness of the new Bishop, the rigorous tactics of the church lawyers dampened hopes for rapprochement. Psychotherapists were order to respond to questions from church lawyers concerning disclosed patient- therapist sessions, and to turn over records from counseling sessions - paid in part by the archdiocese.

The Boston chapter of Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), issued a statement denouncing the church strategy as "a new moral low in [the] treatment of survivors of sexual abuse by priests."

Rodney Ford, father of an alleged victim, said was infuriated at the prospect of his son's psychiatric records being turned over to church lawyers.

"From now on, when they sit before the therapist, they should have their Miranda rights read to them, because anything they say can and will be used against them," said Ford, a plaintiff with his wife and son in a civil suit against Law and the archdiocese. Close to 500 such suits are pending.

Father Christopher Coyne, an archdiocese spokesman said the legal steps were in place "long before" Lennon took over.

"It might seem that the archdiocese is kind of ratcheting things up, or starting to take a harder line, but it is really all about the [legal] calendar," Coyne said

Although some of the clerical abuse victims agreed to a 90-day moratorium, halting pretrial preparations for settlement negotiations to proceed, at least one group of litigants refused to accept the suspension.

At the archdiocese, Coyne said he detected "a little bit of calming down since the cardinal's resignation." But he nevertheless acknowledged "an awful lot of tension in a region where members of his faith play such major roles in politics and culture that the phrase "Catholic Boston" is part of the local lexicon.

"These kinds of disclosures of sinful and criminal behavior by priests, and the inadequate way the archdiocese responded" have shaken many Catholics here to the core of their belief systems, Coyne said, adding, "You can understand why the firestorm is as huge as it is."

Father Walter Cuenin, a Boston-area priest said, "Some people have said that the church here in Boston is suffering from post-traumatic stress syndrome."

A year of disclosures about sexual activity between priests and children, followed by the resignation of the country's senior Catholic prelate, played out "like a Greek tragedy," Cuenin said -- leaving priests and parishioners alike "in shell shock."

Law, who still holds his rank as cardinal, took time away from his "spiritual retreat" last week to view legal dispositions in civil suits involving retired priest Paul Shanley who faces criminal prosecution for child rape. Shanley is currently free on bail.

Ford observed the cardinal as appearing "more reserved" than in previous sessions. Law has not spoken publicly about his reasons for leaving the archdiocese. But Ford said the cardinal told questioners that he was "delighted" when the Vatican accepted his resignation.

Although Law's resignation decreased the number of protestors outside the city's cathedral, new scandals and accusations surface against more Boston priest continue to foster discontentment. Attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose law firm represents about 250 alleged abuse victim noted that the impact of the scandal would have reverberations beyond the archdiocese.

"Although reluctantly, the church now recognizes that it cannot function without conformity to civil laws," MacLeish said, predicting that disclosures about secret church practices will one day bring "massive reforms in church governance."

By Pauline C.