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Now that Cardinal Bernard Law has resigned from his prestigious post in Rome, the future of the man once at the center of the Boston clergy sex abuse scandal is unclear. Law holds his positions on some Vatican boards, including one that selects bishops.
To get a sense of how much influence Law may still have, WBUR’s All Things Considered host Sacha Pfeiffer spoke with Tom Doyle, a Catholic priest who was removed as a military chaplain in 2003 after two decades of speaking out within the church about sexual abuse by priests.
Doyle says he doubts that the sentiments of sex abuse victims in the U.S. had much to do with Law submitting his resignation to the Vatican and the Pope accepting it.
Tom Doyle: They have absolutely no clue or ability to comprehend and be sympathetic toward the damage that he has done towards human beings over here. He may still have some influence with regard to membership on the commissions; how much political influence he still has as far as appointments are concerned — in other words, who’s going to become a bishop. That’s what’s most important.
Sacha Pfeiffer: It sounds like you’re skeptical, though, that this was some kind of punitive move by the Vatican.
I doubt it very much. I mean, they're not going to punish him at this stage for anything. Given the track record in the Vatican, they do not go after any archbishops or cardinals who do what he has done.
As you’ve said, in Rome, Law is still held in high regard. But in the U.S., and certainly in Boston, he is very much associated primarily with the clergy sex abuse scandal and his inactions, or even his enabling of that problem.
Well, he did enable it. I mean, there’s no question. And that’s what he should be associated with more than anything else, is the enabling of the problem, the dishonesty, the coverup, which was of colossal dimensions.
So given that now that is largely how Law is viewed in the U.S. and in Boston, it may surprise some people to be reminded that at some point he was viewed as a rising star. He was really viewed as destined for greatness. Remind us why he was at such a height at one point.
He was at such a height at one point because he was a good bishop. I knew him before he went to Boston and I had a high regard for him and we were good friends. He’s very intelligent, very perceptive. He did not act like a papal prince, nor did he have the obvious sense of ambition at that point.
Before he was appointed to Boston, there were a lot of people who had a lot of respect for him, and a lot of regard for his judgment, his ability to relate to people. His priests in the diocese where he was down in Missouri, they loved him. He didn’t have the arrogance and the narrowness that he developed when he was a cardinal. People have often wondered what happened to him, and I say the only thing I can say is the question of power.
Because power corrupts. When you’re a cardinal or an archbishop in the Catholic Church, you are removed from the real world — significantly removed from the real world. I think what was most important was maintaining the image of the hierarchy, his own image and the power.
Do you think at this point Law will really be remembered for anything but his role in the clergy sex abuse scandal in Boston?
I think some will remember him for what he did when he was younger. But I think for the most part he will be remembered for the sex abuse scandal in Boston, because you’ve got to remember that was not simply that Boston exploded, but that started a chain reaction that’s still going on.
This was and to some extent still is a very politically connected man.
Oh, yeah. He was on the rise I was working at the Vatican Embassy and he had the right connections there, all the way to the top. That’s why he got where he was.
So at least in the eyes of the Vatican, this is not a man disgraced.
No, no. Oh, they don’t think he’s disgraced at all. They think that he was persecuted by the people over here. "He’s suffered enough." That’s what some of them have said. "He has suffered enough," which is complete and total nonsense. But that gives you a clear perspective, a clear idea of their perspective.
I think I know what your answer to this question will be, but there are certainly victims and victim advocates in the U.S. and in Boston who believe that this man has not paid the price, that he should be in jail. Do you think, though, that he has suffered substantially?
No, not enough, if you consider what the victims have gone through, the suffering they have endured. He hasn’t paid the price at all. He got a cushy retirement that caused a tremendous amount of scandal. His actions, his enabling, has not only destroyed a lot of individuals, but a lot of families. Several of the individuals who were violated by some of these Boston priests have committed suicide. And what he did — you cannot minimize it.
This program aired on November 21, 2011.
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