Friday, December 13, 2002

Plus ca change?

The lawsuits are still being prepared.

The files are still being released

The subpoenas are still out

The Archdiocese of Boston is still in crisis – financial and otherwise.

What does this change at the top signify? What could it accomplish?

First, it clears the way for some leadership that might be able to accomplish something. Cardinal Law’s presence hampered this possibility for several reasons. First, he was too closely involved in the sins at issue, and in too direct a way.

Say I’m the DRE of a parish. (I’m not anymore, but I was once). Say I make a series of lousy decisions that impact the parish negatively – I institute new procedures for reception of First Communion, for example. I ban or strongly discourage traditional First Communion dress (don’t laugh, it’s been done.) I institute a burdensome series of parents’ meetings and declare that if parents can’t attend every one of them, their child may not participate. Etc.

Say that this series of decisions causes great dissension and hurt, but I persist, over a period of three years to enforce them. Say my First Communion classes end up declining by 50%.

I’ve made a mess. I may have had good intentions, but it is highly questionable whether this has brought anyone closer to Christ, which should be my prime motivation in decision-making.

Should I stay to fix it? Or should someone else be brought in?

Well, sure, if I wanted to stay, I could very well stay to fix it. It would take compromise, a lot of meetings, some humility on my part, some openness on the parish’s part, but I could, given a change of heart, remain in this ministry and fix this problem.

But say I’d done something else. Say I had consistently allowed and encouraged incompetent catechists to run wild in my program. Say we were all friends, we hung out together, we supported each other, and I allowed these jokers to continue messing up because I had some attachment to them. Perhaps their incompetence took various forms: some taught heresy, some taught nothing, and some were mean to kids. But no matter what the complaints, no matter how many tearful first-graders were presented to me, I soldiered on, letting my friends stay in place in the classroom. And through it all, I consistently misrepresented the situation to my pastor and to concerned parents, telling them that it was probably the kids’ faults. You know how kids are.

Could I fix this situation?

Perhaps, but the chances are slim. Why? Because of my personal connection to the problem. This is not an issue of misguided programming. This is an issue of personality, of a deeper sense of betrayal of my ministry, one which makes me fundamentally untrustworthy.

It’s not a direct analogy – we have no sense that Law was acting to protect friends. I’m not suggesting that. I’m just suggesting that the nature of his personal involvement in these decisions – his willingness to sacrifice principle and the safety of children for the preservation of some sort of relationship (even if it is bishop-priest) and the well-being of perpetrators, plus his apparent occasional prevarication renders him untrustworthy. He didn’t institute a failed program. He personally supported abusers. It’s not something you can scrap, apologize for and replace. It’s a personal betrayal that cripples you as a leader, both in how you are perceived and truly, how you can act, since you will always, at some level, concerned with self-preservation.

But….only time will tell. There is certainly a power struggle of sorts going on in Boston, and it will take great skill to resolve it. But what’s most important, right now, is that the victims of priestly sexual abuse be given their due, be ministered to, and that the Archdiocese right itself morally and financially, so that it can get on with the business of witnesses to the love of Christ, rather than the desperate need for self-justification.

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