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Dearly Beloved in Christ,
Today is Pentecost. With all my heart I pray that the Church in Boston might be given new life by a fresh outpouring of the Spirit´s gifts. I would first like to thank you for maintaining your faith despite what you are seeing and reading about the current situation facing the Catholic Church. Difficult times come for each of us in different ways, and we need to draw on our faith in prayer in order to face these difficulties.
All of us are burdened by the seemingly never ending repercussions of the sexual abuse of children by clergy. The scandalous and painful details which have emerged sear our hearts. The harm done to victims and their families is overwhelming. Bewilderment has given rise to anger and distrust. In the process, my credibility has been publicly questioned and I have become for some an object of contempt. I understand how this is so, and I am profoundly sorry that the inadequacy of past policies and flaws in past decisions have contributed to this situation. I wish I could undo the hurt and harm.
As a result of civil suits in process and the various depositions being taken, many documents are currently in the public domain. It often appears that these cases are being tried in the press during this discovery period rather than being more appropriately tried later in court. Because only selected passages of many documents have been made public, I would like to give again an account of my stewardship in handling these cases.
Since becoming Archbishop in March of 1984, I have viewed such acts as the result of a psychological pathology. In dealing with such cases, my colleagues and I have been aided by the insights and recommendations of those with a medical competence which we did not have. Furthermore, since 1993 every case has also been examined by a review board consisting mainly of lay persons with a variety of backgrounds that would ensure that theirs be an informed counsel as to how to deal with the particular case before
In 1993, as you know, an Archdiocesan written policy for dealing with such cases was formulated on the basis of our past experience, our review of other diocesan policies, and on consultation. After this policy was promulgated, I directed that all past cases of allegations against priests be reviewed in accord with the new policy. The 1993 policy did not mandate reporting to public authorities because it was felt that doing so would inhibit some victims from coming forward. It was our judgment at the time that such reporting was more appropriately the victim´s choice. As you know, our current policy is that any allegation is immediately reported to the proper public authority. Furthermore, we have brought forward the names of all living priests known to us against whom credible allegations of sexual abuse of minors have been made.
Another major change in policy which I introduced at the beginning of this year is that no priest against whom a credible allegation has been made may hold any Church assignment whatsoever. That policy has been implemented, and I recommended a similar policy during the Cardinals´ meeting in Rome last month.
Given the horrible details that have been reported concerning it, the case of Father Paul Shanley has been particularly disturbing. I, too, am profoundly disturbed by these details, and wish to share some facts concerning this case. When I arrived in Boston in 1984, I assumed that priests in place had been appropriately appointed. It did not enter into my mind to second-guess my predecessors, and it simply was not in the culture of the day to function otherwise. Despite the quantity of documents released
and statements on the part of some indicating they believe otherwise, before God I assure you that my first knowledge of an allegation of sexual abuse against this priest was in 1993. It was immediately acted upon, and the authorization for him to serve as a priest in California was rescinded. I was not aware until these recent months of the allegations against him from as early as 1966.
In 1990, when Fr. Shanley left Boston, it was at his request that he was given a sick leave. It had nothing to do with an issue of sexual abuse. The attestation that he was a priest in good standing at the time was in accord with the facts as I knew them then. In addition, it has been reported that someone alleges I was informed after a Mass in 1984 that Father Shanley had molested a child. I have absolutely no memory of such a conversation, and those who have worked most closely with me can attest that such a report
would have been acted upon.
There is no record of that having happened, and furthermore, I had no suspicion about Fr. Shanley concerning this in the ensuing years. The 1993 allegation was my first knowledge. I wish I had known in 1984, and I wish I had been aware of the 1966 report. It is only possible to act based on what is known, however.
I am certain that as time goes on, fresh revelations concerning cases will necessitate some explanation on the part of the Archdiocese. Never, however, has there been an intent to put children at risk. The fact that I have introduced radical policy changes indicates that deficiencies existed in the way we handled these cases in the past. Mistakes have also been made when facts which should have been before me were not. I often have made decisions based on the best information available to me at the time, only to find that new details later became available which some may argue I should have had previously.
Obviously, I wish that I had been aware of all pertinent facts before making any past decisions. During the past five months and continuing into the present our records have been and are being reviewed to ensure that all pertinent facts are available. It goes without saying that the Archdiocese is fully cooperative with the Attorney General, the District Attorneys, and the Department of Social Services.
On last Friday, I was briefed by the Commission assisting me in developing a revised policy and programs to ensure that the protection of children be our first priority in dealing with this issue as we go forward. I am most grateful to the Commission members for the progress they are making toward preparing final recommendations, and I am supportive of their suggestions regarding an enhanced role for the laity. Their work will be of invaluable help as we move forward. However difficult these past months have been, the fact that this issue is being dealt with in a far more effective way than before is most comforting.
Today is Pentecost. When the Holy Spirit came upon the early Church gathered in prayer in the Upper Room, the Church was transformed. On Pentecost Sunday in the many upper rooms of this Archdiocese we gathered around our altars in prayer. We who are the Church were gathered in that greatest expression of prayer which is the Eucharistic Sacrifice.
Pentecost is pre-eminently the feast of the Church. We stand, as the Archdiocese of Boston, in desperate need of the Holy Spirit´s gifts. The work we must do together is being hampered by the division which bewilderment, hurt, distrust and anger have sown. We are the Church. That “We” must never be understood in an exclusive sense, however. It is not just “We the Laity,” or “We the Hierarchy,” or “We the Clergy,” or “We the Religious,” or “We the Prophetic Voice.” It is all of us together.
In the Third Eucharistic Prayer, after the words of Institution, the celebrant prays: “Grant that we, who are nourished by his body and blood, may be filled with his Holy Spirit, and become one body, one spirit in Christ.” That is my prayer as I write these words to you.
May our novena to the Holy Spirit conclude with our hearts open to receive a fresh outpouring of the Spirit´s gifts. May the Spirit “fill every member of the Church with holiness so that, working together as the Body of Christ, we might be built up in faith, hope, and love in order to proclaim the Gospel with joy.”
Please know of my constant prayer for each of you who with me are this Archdiocese. In your kindness and in virtue of the unique communion that is ours, please pray also for me and for all of the priests who selflessly serve the Church with dedication and integrity.
Devotedly yours in Christ,
+Bernard Cardinal Law
Archbishop of Boston