success stories

Church's critics gain from keeping scandal alive

by Joe Fitzgerald
Wednesday, June 19, 2002
Boston Globe

The relentless flogging of the Catholic Church is beginning to beg the question: Who or what will determine when this miserable story has finally run its course?

It's obviously transcended the events that triggered it, providing a forum for malcontents who've been angry at the Church for years, long before they ever heard of James Porter and John Geoghan. Listen to their rants - ordination of women, acceptance of homosexuality - and ask yourself what any of that has to do with the betrayal of a young person's trust?

The young Malcolm X coined a motto, ``By any means necessary,'' that absolutely applies to many of these demagogues now riding the coattails of a scandal unrelated to agendas they are pushing.

If they have their way, the story will never end.

Ditto those who had Bernard Cardinal Law in their crosshairs long before they, too, heard the names Porter and Geoghan. They now disingenuously suggest he must step down because ``he's lost his moral authority.''This is the same crowd that demanded he keep his nose out of abortion, welfare, public housing and capital punishment. His was a voice they did not want to hear, insisting it was entirely inappropriate and unwelcome in matters affecting the public domain.

And now they tell us he's ineffective because that voice has been weakened, because he no longer conveys a moral authority they never acknowledged anyway? Please.

Law has become a lightning rod in many ways, not just as a punching bag for secularists or for Catholics who'd like to fashion a faith that embraces all of their whims and aberrations.

He's also got lawyers lecturing him, as if peering down from the high road, a novel perspective for them.

How many readers ever heard of Mitchell Garabedian and Roderick MacLeish before this scandal erupted? Now they're hotter than Barry Scheck and Johnnie Cochran.

When the Finance Council for the Archdiocese of Boston voted to place a limit on settlements a month ago, Garabedian raced to the microphones to call Law ``a despicable human being,'' adding ``my clients are in tears over this.''Tears over what? Justice denied? Or a fortune denied?

With hundreds of alleged victims looking to split up millions of dollars, it was certainly not unreasonable for Church officials to consider the domino effect of allowing attorneys to declare open season on limited coffers.

But MacLeish characterizes that as gross insensitivity.``The big picture from the chancery seems to be to attack the victims by saying all these molestation cases are hurting donations, forcing them to cut back on social services for the poor,'' he said, dismissing the possibility needy people and deserving causes could indeed be hurt by the windfalls he's hoping to score.

If memory serves, the original goal of the victims was validation of harm that had been done to them and public censure of their assailants, both of which have happened.

So now it's a matter of money. How much is enough? No, this story's not close to ending because too many people have a rooting interest in keeping it alive, though Law has done all he could reasonably be expected to do: Apologies have been offered, responsibility has been accepted, forgiveness has been sought, changes have been promised. That's not enough?

It ought to be, if coupled with fair compensation. Yet the story drags on because you can't say ``mission accomplished'' without defining the mission.

For those whose mission was ridding the Church of a cancer that festered within it, the mission has been accomplished. But for those who've shamelessly climbed aboard, whose mission is driven by a vendetta or defined by greed, it's a story they very much want to keep alive, damages be damned.

So that makes Law a lightning rod for yet another faction, one that's looking for him to stand firm in the eye of the storm, recognizing a witch hunt for what it is.

To them, he has never looked stronger. But to those who work the other side of the street, neither he nor the Church have ever looked more vulnerable. That's the way the story looks from here, which is why the end is still nowhere in sight.