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Spotlight Report

  Cardinal Bernard Law speaks to reporters at the chancery after announcing that the Boston Archdiocese's sexual abuse policy will remain in effect. (Globe Staff Photo / Dominic Chavez)

Law confident Boston diocese rules will endure

By Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 10/19/2002

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 The conflicts
A look at where canon law and the Dallas policy proposal differ

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Exchange of letters between the Vatican and the US bishops

It was his first full news conference since Jan. 24, and the man facing the cameras was someone Boston hasn't seen in quite a while: an optimistic Cardinal Bernard F. Law.

Law made his surprise public appearance yesterday to comment on Vatican reservations about the tough policy toward sexually abusive priests that was adopted by US bishops in June - a policy necessitated in part by Law's own acknowledged failure to intervene early to remove abusers from parish work. And, where some expressed concerns that the Vatican might dilute the bishops' policy, Law said he was confident the policy would hold up.

''I don't see this as a repudiation of our efforts,'' he said, while acknowledging that the Vatican has raised questions that need to be resolved.

He said he doubts that the commission of US bishops and Vatican officials who will review the policy will order fundamental changes in the bishops' policy or that there will be any significant shift in how the Archdiocese of Boston now handles allegations against its priests. ''The policies and procedures of this archdiocese remain in effect,'' Law said.

What the cardinal said yesterday was largely echoed by other US bishops. What was remarkable was that Law, who has mostly avoided reporters since January, decided to hold a news conference. To some church officials, it was more evidence of his intent to return to the public arena.

His last full news conference was a session notable for some tart responses to questions. Yesterday, despite the intervening months, there was nothing rusty about Law's handling of the questions he faced. And he appeared to be in good humor and noticeably less haggard than of late.

In January, the cardinal was under fire for his protection and deferential treatment of priests who had molested children. But yesterday, he spoke as an advocate for tough sanctions against offending priests, measures that the Vatican may yet force the US bishops to modify.

Asked, at one point, whether bishops might be forced to abandon their zero-tolerance policy, Law declined to speculate. But he seemed unconcerned. ''I can tell you what the policy of this archdiocese is, that if someone has been responsible for the sexual abuse of a minor, that person may not have an assignment.''

Asked about Vatican worries that the due process rights of priests are not being observed, Law said he sees no reason for such fears in Boston.

''We believe that the policy as it is being implemented in this archdiocese responds to the requirements of due process which is needed in any forum, whether you're talking about civil law or whether you're talking about canon law,'' Law said. ''Obviously, I would not implement something if I knew that due process was not being provided for.''

Besides, he said, if any priest feels his rights have been violated, under either canon or civil law, ''that person has the right of appeal.''

Even so, Law acknowledged the criticism by some that American bishops, in their haste to reach consensus to appease angry Catholics, may have crafted a policy that now, as he put it, requires ''a little greater precision.''

He said: ''Frankly, a policy of this kind - probably a policy of every kind - does evolve. As you deal with more cases, as you see more dimensions to the problem, it does evolve ... Now whether or not we could have foreseen some of these difficulties had we given ourselves more time for reflection at Dallas, I don't know. It's conceivable that that might have happened. We might have come out with a document that would not have raised these questions, would have been still a document doing what we want to do and will do, which the Holy See has said we should do, but with more time have avoided the necessity of this mixed commission now looking at specific problems. I don't know. That could have happened.''

Almost as an aside, Law expressed surprise that the glacial pace at which the Vatican normally moves has been quickened so that the review will be completed by the time US bishops gather again in Washington on Nov. 11. ''I frankly am amazed,'' Law said of the three-week window in which the Vatican plans to resolve the issue.

As he concluded, Law provoked laughter when he left the chancery library room, noting as he walked away that copies of his statement were on the table. ''But it has some mistakes in it,'' he added.

In response, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, one of the cardinal's spokesmen, replied with a smile, ''It has a few typos, but no mistakes.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 10/19/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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