Tom Doyle on Cardinal Law

Tom Doyle was involved in the Church's first child abuse scandal in the early 1980’s, and has been a major voice for reform ever since. NCR ran his editorial obituary, “Cardinal Law's complex role in the contemporary history of clergy sexual abuse.” He knew Bernard Law even before the scandal, when he was a seemingly righteous bishop on his way up. Bishop Law apparently spoke of becoming the first American pope. Doyle provides an insider’s view of the history of the Church’s sex abuse problem and the evolution of Cardinal Law. The two are related.

Doyle was a consultant on the first scandal in Louisiana, and he in turn consulted with Law: “The soon-to-be cardinal was well aware of the danger facing the church and especially the bishops if they remained inert. He helped work out three action proposals,” and offered to lobby the bishops’ council for support. The bishops failed to support the proposal. Doyle then coauthored a manual for dealing with clerical sex abuse, and Cardinal Law helped distribute it to every bishop.

The once-righteous and farsighted Law changed after taking charge of Boston and becoming a cardinal. Tom Doyle doesn’t discuss this conversion, saying that he lost contact with Law. But after the Boston Globe broke the story of the child abuse epidemic in Boston’s Catholic Church, and its cover-up by Cardinal Law, Doyle says:

I was both saddened and angered by Law's public responses: "If mistakes were made … etc." That line, which he came up with at the first press conference, made me furious. What was worse was that he knew how destructive sexual contact between an adult and a child could be and that the historical cover-up, the default response by the bishops, was a recipe for disaster. He also knew, because we had discussed it enough, how crucial a sympathetic and compassionate response was to the victims and their families. It seemed like everything that had been discussed in 1984 to 1986 had been intentionally buried.

Doyle makes no mention of the now-sainted Pope John Paul, who almost certainly played a role in Law’s transformation. The hard line stance taken by the U.S. bishops was also contrary to Doyle’s expectation:

Law's scandalous cover-up and resignation led to a phenomenon that was not expected nor clearly obvious at the time, but it was real! In spite of the negative and critical publicity aimed at the bishops, they remained firmly entrenched and in control of the nationwide epidemic. They fully believed they could and would determine how this all played out. Jan. 6, 2002, in Boston changed that. Now for the first time in the history of the church, the victims of the clergy's malfeasance were in charge, whether they fully realized it or not. The Catholic laity, the general public and especially the victims called out Law's empty rhetoric and continued to challenge bishops from then on for their baseless and self-serving assertions and lack of follow-through.

The bishops doubled-down on denial and cover-up, yet Doyle fails to see the hand of the Vatican. He continues:

Pope John Paul II summoned the American cardinals to Rome in April 2002 for a meeting that was substantially useless, yet it showed that the pope and his Curia could no longer ignore the reality of the problem even though they continued to try and minimize it and shift the blame elsewhere. It would only be a matter of time before officials in the Vatican itself would be uncovered. The first and highest-ranking hierarch to fall was not a lowly diocesan bishop from somewhere in the boondocks but the most powerful cardinal in the United States and a close collaborator to the pope.

Doyle claims “the pope and his Curia” had been ignoring the problem. The fact that the same pattern of denial and cover-up was occurring in every Catholic stronghold all over the world, failed to suggest this behavior was centrally coordinated and controlled. He continues:

After a few months, Pope John Paul II made Law the archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, which carried with it significant perks as well as a palace to live in. He remained an influential member of several Vatican congregations. This screamed volumes about the pope's complete insensitivity to the incalculable harm done to the people of the Archdiocese of Boston but most importantly, the harm done to victims.

Cardinal Law had become the symbol of the Church’s immoral response to its sex abuse scandal. Yet Pope John Paul rewarded him with a palace and a cushy job in Vatican City. Doyle thinks John Paul was simply “insensitive.” The idea of quid pro quo never enters his mind.

Pope Francis immediately cleared his calendar to pay tribute to Cardinal Law. Recall that it took over three years for Pope Francis to find the time to meet with his special commission on child abuse, and that he never provided it with adequate resources. Father Doyle apparently has not noticed any patterns of papal behavior.


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