Cardinal Bernard Law, embattled archbishop of Boston, repeatedly refused to step down despite pressure from scores of Catholics, priests, and politicians amid a growing scandal involving sexual abuse by priests. The controversy began in January 2002 when defrocked Massachusetts cleric John Geoghan was sentenced to nine to ten years in prison for sexual assault, and escalated in April with the release of hundreds of pages of documents that revealed that the archdiocese had reassigned Rev. Paul Shanley from parish to parish despite his history of sexual abuse. The scandal reached a fever pitch in late April, when the pope summoned U.S. cardinals to the Vatican for a historic meeting on the issue.
In a deposition in May, Law said he had delegated most decision-making in the Geoghan case and claimed he had forgotten many of the details of the scandal. In December, the public release of clergy personnel records in Boston revealed additional cases of sexual abuse by priests and further cover-up by church leadership. With more than 400 victims making claims against the church, Cardinal Law won approval from the Finance Council of the Archdiocese to declare bankruptcy. Fifty-eight Boston-area priests then signed a petition calling for the resignation of Cardinal Law. On Dec. 13, 2002 at the Vatican, Law resigned before the pope.
How can a church that preaches the impermissibility of so many forms of consensual, adult sex simultaneously tolerate, ignore or cover up the sexual abuse of children by its own priests? To my mind, the violation of a child’s innocence, the betrayal of a priestly trust, the rape of a minor’s very body provide about as good a definition of evil as one can find. Yet a church that regularly condemns and judges so many of its congregants for comparatively minor sexual variations on the married heterosexual norm permits and covers up far worse offenses among its own.