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Amid Scandal, Calls to Reform the Catholic Church Ring Out

March 10, 2002
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Amid Scandal, Calls to Reform the Catholic Church Ring Out

By Jennifer Peter, Associated Press

BOSTON (AP) - The Archdiocese of Boston will provide more services to victims of sexual abuse, according to a spokeswoman, and will consider other reforms suggested by parishioners this weekend.

Proposals range from the general, such as better communication and less secrecy, to the specific, including appointing a bishop to oversee the archdiocese's operations while Cardinal Bernard Law focuses on the protection of children.

"There is a big structural problem," said Paul Baier, who attends St. John the Evangelist Church in Wellesley. "We need policy-making that is not secret, that does involve non-clergy, that does involve input from the local parishes."

After listening to suggestions on Saturday during a meeting of 2,500 lay and clergy leaders, Law had no immediate answers, but said he would contemplate their proposals.

"I will do the best I can to find the course, the path that will take us to where we need to be as a Church," Law said on Saturday. "I take what you have said to heart, and I will ponder it in prayer and with the thoughtful consideration of others."

Law was not available for comment after saying Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday, but a diocesan spokeswoman, Donna Morrissey, said one definite change will be increased outreach to children sexually abused by clergy.

In the past several weeks, 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.

The exact form the outreach will take has not yet been determined, Morrissey said, but it will include dedicating more personnel and services to victims.

Other suggestions for reform that have surfaced include ordaining women, allowing priests to marry, and even convening a Third Vatican Council to overhaul the entire Church.

The Boston archdiocese has made several changes since the sexual abuse scandal broke in January, following revelations that Law had repeatedly responded to charges of pedophilia by priests by transferring them to other parishes.

Law immediately announced a "zero tolerance" policy, saying that priests guilty of child abuse would not be allowed to remain in the clergy. He instructed all clergy and volunteers to report allegations of abuse to the police - an action that had not been required in the past.

He has also created a 15-member task force, the Cardinal's Commission for the Protection of Children, to examine the archdiocese's current policies on handling abuse and advise on matters from psychological screening of candidates for the priesthood. The task force includes academics, children's advocates and a prosecutor.

Former priest John Geoghan, who was defrocked in 1998, was sentenced to nine to 10 years in prison last month for groping a 10-year-old boy in a swimming pool. He is awaiting trial in a separate case charging him with two counts of indecent assault and battery.

A superior court judge threw out a third set of charges on Thursday, saying that too much time had elapsed between the alleged assaults and the 1999 indictment.

The revelations have left many of the Catholic faithful skeptical about their leadership.

"It makes me look at the hierarchy of the church differently and how the church is organized and how the church makes decisions," said Scott Morin, 35, of Beverly.

The possibility of radical reforms, however, did not sit well with many who attended Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday.

Efren Rodriguez said he opposed the idea of appointing another bishop to help run the church while Law focuses on the child abuse issue, a proposal floated during the meeting on Saturday.

"A father should not leave his family," said Rodriguez, of Cambridge. "If a father makes a mistake, he says he's sorry but he doesn't turn his responsibilities over to someone else."

Digna Cruz of Boston said there is a solution that is simpler and more effective than reform: "We just need to pray a lot and be together."

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