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Church sexual abuse crisis will continue despite Law's resignation
By Rachel Zoll, Associated Press, 12/13/02
Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation as archbishop Friday may help ease the sex abuse crisis he mismanaged in Boston, but will have less of an impact nationwide as dioceses face scandals of their own making, analysts say.
Grand jury investigations continue in several states and hundreds of civil lawsuits are pending, threatening to keep alive what bishops have called the gravest time the U.S. Roman Catholic Church has ever faced.
Even the symbolic value of Law's resignation -- sending a message that the church will not tolerate bishops who protect guilty priests -- is undercut by his resisting the move for months, church observers say.
"Holding on steadfast to power as long as he did, after everyone else saw the writing on the wall, indicates he didn't get it," said Scott Appleby, a University of Notre Dame history professor who spoke at the national bishops' meeting on sex abuse in the priesthood last June.
The trouble started in January after church files became public showing Law had moved sexually abusive clergy from parish to parish. Calls for Law to step down started soon after, and similar cases arose in dioceses nationwide.
American bishops have enacted several reforms to restore their credibility, such as adopting a toughened sex abuse policy and hiring a former FBI investigator to monitor their compliance with it.
But they've kept the crisis going by resisting many changes that Catholics demanded, said Jason Berry, author of "Lead Us Not Into Temptation, Catholic Priests and the Sexual Abuse of Children."
Only a handful of prelates have revealed how much they've spent to settle abuse claims, or how they covered the cost -- even though many parishioners have been withholding donations until they do so.
Many dioceses also are fighting prosecutors' requests for personnel files, undermining bishops' repeated assertions that they will no longer conceal abuse claims, Berry said.
"The information keeps dribbling out," he said. "It's like water torture."
In fact, many observers fear the epicenter of the crisis is simply moving west.
The Diocese of Louisville, Ky., faces about 200 abuse lawsuits, and a prosecutor has hinted that Phoenix Bishop Thomas O'Brien could face criminal charges for allegedly counseling victims' families not to go to police. California dioceses are bracing for a flood of claims after the state liberalized its statute of limitations on abuse cases.
"The situation argues against any rosy predictions about the future," said Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Gov. Frank Keating, head of the lay National Review Board charged with enforcing the bishops' new abuse policy, said he believed other prelates who mishandled errant priests should follow Law's lead and resign to help the church move forward.
Among the most embattled church leaders is Bishop John McCormack of Manchester, N.H., who was a top aide to Law in Boston. McCormack this week averted a criminal indictment of the Manchester Diocese by admitting it sheltered predatory priests.
"I think doubtless other resignations will be appropriate," Keating said, "to get a clean slate."
The Rev. Thomas Doyle, who derailed his career in the church by becoming an advocate for abuse victims 18 years ago, believes Catholics are only beginning to learn the depth of the bishops' wrongdoing.
"What's happened in Boston has become publicly known, but that's not the only situation throughout the U.S," Doyle said. "This is not the end by any stretch of the imagination."