Cardinal Law’s overlooked legacy: a new anti-clericalism in America’s Catholic heartland

Cardinal Law’s overlooked legacy: a new anti-clericalism in America’s Catholic heartland

After the abuse crisis, priests are considered guilty until proven innocent

by Michael Davis
posted Saturday, 23 Dec 2017

In the early 2000s, when claims clerical sex abuse in Boston first surfaced, there were roughly 1,350 priests ministering to the archdiocese. At least 270 were accused of abusing children. That’s upwards of 20 per cent of all clergy, both secular and religious.

Now, that does not mean one in five priests is a predator. But, then again, who knows? Cardinal Seán O’Malley, his successor as Archbishop of Boston, has called this “the greatest tragedy to befall children” in the history of Massachusetts. And he’s right. But it was the worst tragedy to befall the state’s priests, too. Every single one of them automatically comes under suspicion of being a paedophile.

Ireland has a better sense of how difficult this saga has been for those upstanding clergymen who find themselves lumped together with the heinous minority of predators. The 2014 film Calvary stars Brendan Gleeson as a priest who is threatened by a victim of clerical sex abuse – and only because he’s innocent. “There’s no point in killing a bad priest,” the man tells him. “But killing a good one! That’d be a shock.”

In another scene, Gleeson’s character passes a little girl on the side of the road. They walk together, talking about surfing and holidays, until her father pulls up alongside them and orders her into the car. “What the hell were you saying to her?” he asks Gleeson’s character. “I wasn’t saying anything,” the priest replies, stunned. “You looked deep in ——ing conversation to me,” the father snaps, and they peel out down the road. Gleeson is left standing there dumbly, humiliated.

Of course, this is fiction. But the targeting of innocent priests is not. Their humiliation is not. That’s why Ireland’s Association of Catholic Priests has begun offering therapy to those falsely accused of sexual impropriety – particularly as they are more and more turning to suicide. As Fr Tim Hazelwood told The Irish Times, a priest “is presumed guilty” by Church authorities until proven innocent. Surely there’s a better alternative to complicity with actual rapists?

That’s not even mentioning the vocations crisis. Many good young men will give up sex to serve God and His Church, difficult though celibacy is. In our hyper-libidinal age, it can also be embarrassing to signal one’s celibacy simply by putting on the Roman collar. But now, at least in Boston, that collar may as well be a sign that the wearer is a threat to children. Of course, that isn’t true. But everyone in Massachusetts has a son, brother, cousin, friend, or neighbour who was an altar boy and hasn’t been quite right since.

In the 1990s, a close relative of mine worked at a psychiatric hospital about an hour outside the city. The archdiocese bought a house next door to serve as a retirement home, and paid the hospital to care for the priests who lived there. No one had any illusions about what was going on: it was a safe house for paedophile priests. Among the “patients” was Fr John Geoghan, who finally went to prison in 2002, on one charge of molestation; the archdiocese spent $10 million to hush another 86 of his victims. Less than a year later, Fr Geoghan was strangled in his cell by fellow inmate Joseph Druce. “Your days are over,” Druce told Geoghan as he throttled him. “No more children for you, pal.” A convinced murderer and white supremacist, Druce became something of a folk hero in stately, progressive Boston. Even to Catholics. Perhaps especially to Catholics.

Let’s just say you won’t see #NotAllPriests trending on Twitter any time soon.

I’ve lived in Massachusetts for most of my life, and was educated in its Catholic school system. Every priest I’ve spoken to is shocked by the assumption they venerate Cardinal Law because “he had our backs”. He was a “company man”. No, he was not. If he cared about the clergy under his charge, he would have rooted out the true monsters in their ranks. Instead, Boston’s priests are some of the most hated since the French Revolution. This, too, is a huge part of the late cardinal’s legacy: a new anti-clericalism, born in the heartland of American Catholicism.

Maybe someday we will be able to acknowledge the clerical victims of clerical sex abuse. Judging from the newspapers and cable news shows, I don’t think that day has arrived yet. But for the sake of the many decent men who serve us in the priesthood, let’s pray it comes soon

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2 comments on “Cardinal Law’s overlooked legacy: a new anti-clericalism in America’s Catholic heartland

  1. I declined to say something good about Bernie, so let me say it now when I can turn it into a more devastating whack. Law was very smart. “Wicked smaht,” as they say out here. He knew everything he was doing. He wasn’t working for the betterment of the Church. No. He, of all people, would know what a pederast scandal would do to the church, yet he turned it into the worst scandal imaginable.

    One wakeup call for me was when I saw Law hug Fr. Sal Ferigle, head cheese of Opie Dopie in Boston in the 90’s. Hugged on stage, that is, at the cathedral. Keep your eye on OD, and on any Law protege: Dick Malone in Buffalo, Bill Murphy formerly at Rockville Center persecuting Fr. John Murphy, and John McCormack formerly in NH. Others?

  2. We were warned that “scandals must needs come” by Our Lord.
    Tragically, the only “civilians” who could influence events once this hellish nightmare went viral were attorneys and the hierarchy, the latter transformed into cheesy real estate brokers, selling off whatever they could of Church property for payoffs for crimes their own lack of judiciousness exacerbated in the first place.
    Thus, a perfect storm was created by which all and sundry who hate Christ and His Church wreaked far more than economic catastrophe. What dignity the US bishops otherwise might have retained (1) prior to this Second Boston Massacre was destroyed for generations to come.
    Rome, already covering up the wickedness of the LC scandal, was utterly useless, as well.
    What a legacy: The Revolution of 1962-65, three decades after it blew up the Liturgy and lionized heretics and other grossly unfit “superstars” of the Left, led to a penultimate disembowelment (2) of the Church’s moral authority in the eyes of the world.
    That in mind, the miserable and expanding hypocrisy of the current pontificate appears even more sinister whenever it claims that theological impossibilities are, somehow magically, now ” authentic ‘magisterium’ ” while hectoring, harassing and firing those opposed.
    Everyone will pay in Hell or in the tortures of Purgatory for every instance – through malice, just plain stupidity or lax standards – wherein he led others into sin. There is no statute of limitations clause, either.
    The Butcher’s Bill for the Revolutionaries continues to mount.
    (1) Whatever there was was scant, anyway
    (2). AL and the queering of public Church decisions may be THE ultimate provocation against Heaven. Although, these geniuses have never failed to come up with even more horrific tricks in the past 4-plus years.

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