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Cardinal Law says Archdiocese paper's editorial was not questioning celibacy
By Justin Pope, Associated Press, 03/15/02
BOSTON -- An editorial in the Boston Archdiocese newspaper calling for frank discussion of issues such as priest celibacy and homosexuality could signal a new openness in the wake of a sex abuse scandal, experts said, but it also took a risk by putting church doctrine on the table.
But Cardinal Bernard Law, the paper's publisher, issued a statement late Friday saying the editorial had "created confusion" and was not questioning the church's position on the issue of clerical celibacy.
The editorial, entitled "Questions that must be faced" and published Thursday in a special edition of The Pilot, the nation's oldest Roman Catholic paper, said the recent priest sex abuse scandal here has "raised serious questions in the minds of the laity that simply will not disappear."
Among them: should priest celibacy continue; does it contribute to child sex abuse; and why are many Catholics "not convinced that an all male priesthood was intended by Christ and is unchangeable?"
The editorial also, without suggesting specific answers, urges discussion on questions such as whether sexual orientation is "either/or" and remarks: "We know that our sexual orientation in neither good nor evil."
The editorial "has unfortunately created confusion," Law said. "While it is accurate to report that questions concerning the discipline of clerical celibacy were raised ... it is not the editorial position of The Pilot that clerical celibacy should be reviewed by the church with the purpose of a change in discipline."
The archdiocese has been under fire since it was revealed that officials knew about child sex abuse allegations against defrocked priest John Geoghan, but did little to stop him. Geoghan has been accused of molesting more than 130 children over 30 years. He is serving a nine-to-10 year prison sentence for fondling a 10-year-old boy.
The archdiocese has turned over to prosecutors the names of more than 80 current and former priests suspected of child abuse in the past 50 years. Several groups have called for Cardinal Bernard F. Law to resign.
Stephen Pope, chairman of the theology department at Boston College, said putting the issues out so boldly in the editorial was unprecedented.
"The tendency in the Catholic Church has been for the hierarchy to make the decisions and then announce them to the laity," he said. "I think it's extraordinary that this call for a conversation among the laity is being promoted by the hierarchy."
But Pope and others said there is some risk that the article would anger authorities in Rome, where Law has enjoyed strong support.
Chester Gillis, a Georgetown University professor and author of "Roman Catholicism in America," said The Pilot took a chance to even raise a question about ordaining women.
"The pope has clearly prohibited discussion of it. It would be very unusual to raise that," Gillis said. "In internal hierarchical circles in the church, it might be seen as problematic."
The editorial urged discussion of two layers of issues. Priest celibacy is considered a question of church discipline, which can be modified; indeed priests were not required to be celibate for much of the church's history. Ordaining women, however, is considered a question of church doctrine and cannot be changed.
The deputy Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Ciro Benedettini, said the Vatican had no comment on the editorial. He added Pope John Paul's views on celibacy are well known.
"The pope has spoken to this," he said. "He has said celibacy remains, it is a great gift to the church. He has spoken clearly in favor of celibacy."
The editorial was written by Monsignor Peter Conley, the executive editor and considered a close confidant of Law's.
Rev. Christopher Coyne, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said Friday that Law had not been aware the editorial would be published.
"The editorial simply restates the questions that have been raised by the laity in the listening sessions and says in light of all this we should respond with appropriate answers," Coyne said.
Philip Lawler, editor of The Pilot from 1986-88, said he rarely consulted with Law on editorials. Still, Lawler said on such sensitive issues he would have discussed the piece with the cardinal before before publication. If the current editor did not, it could be a sign the cardinal is losing influence, Lawler said.
"It would show that he's (Law) become irrelevant," Lawler said.
A number of Catholics said Friday they welcome the editorial.
"I don't see how anybody in light of what's been going on in recent weeks could say this issue should not be discussed," said Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Bishops who identifies himself as a conservative and supports priest celibacy. "I think it should be discussed, (even) if you want to preserve it. The case for celibacy has to be made again."
More than 100,000 copies of the 28-page supplement to the weekly paper were printed, and will be distributed after Mass in parishes Sunday. It includes question-and-answer sections on how the church will pay to settle sex abuse cases and an article on what parishioners should tell their children.
Edward Holtam came to midday Mass on Friday at St. Anthony Shrine in downtown Boston looking for a copy. He said he also supports celibacy but agrees discussion is essential.
"I think people need to talk about it to understand why," he said. "I don't think nowadays most people have much rationale for it."
Pope said the true significance of the editorial was its implication that there are structural problems in the church, and the recent scandal isn't merely the fault of a few malevolent individuals.
"The cynical view is going to be that this is just window dressing," he said. "But I don't think the cynical view is helpful. I think we need to take the archdiocese at its word and make a good faith effort to be more actively engaged in the conversation."
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