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Mary McGrory

Awaiting a Change Within the Church

By Mary McGrory
Sunday, August 4, 2002; Page B07

On his recent visit to Toronto, Pope John Paul II delivered two messages, one verbal and one visual.

In his remarks at the World Youth Day Mass, the supreme pontiff lamented the "sadness and shame" of the pedophile scandal rocking the church. As before -- in a Palm Sunday letter to the Roman clergy and an address to a Vatican meeting of U.S. bishops -- he spoke glancingly of victims and urged sympathy for blameless priests who have been besmirched in the crisis.

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His other message was conveyed in the presence of Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law, who is at the eye of the hurricane and whose handling of pedophiliac priests in his diocese has led to fury among the faithful and to calls for his resignation and even for his indictment. But readers of the Boston Globe, the paper that uncovered the scandal, were shocked to see a picture of the prelate dancing and singing with young pilgrims from Massachusetts.

The pope did not make any mention of the hierarchy's responsibility in the tragedy. Catholics are left to wonder if his attitude toward Cardinal Law is an implicit endorsement of Law's policy of coverup, payoff and fast shuffle of notorious pedophiles from parish to parish -- with no warning to their new parish. Or is it simply an expression of hierarchical solidarity and a suggestion to the people in the pews that this is entirely a matter for the supreme pontiff to decide?

The president of Voice of the Faithful, a fast-growing lay group founded in Boston, is Jim Post, a professor of management at Boston University. He was "disappointed" by the pope's Toronto statement. He had hoped for some suggestion that the laity be included in a solution. Instead he heard, "Go sit in the pews and be quiet."

Voice of the Faithful now has 22,000 members nationwide. Its formation was discouraged by Cardinal Law, who has locked horns with the organization on the all-important matter of money. Since January, when the revelations began, contributions have fallen off -- people objected to having donations used for hush money. Voice offered direct contributions to needy agencies. His Eminence refused, insisting that all funds go through him. The matter is deadlocked.

From Toronto, His Holiness traveled to Guatemala and Mexico and scored his usual personal triumphs, with spectacular crowds and emotional acclaim for creating local saints.

Cardinal Law went back to Boston and professed himself rejuvenated by his encounters with the enthusiastic young people who surrounded him -- instead of the usual pickets calling for his resignation. "His attitude is that he has weathered the storm," said one Boston Catholic who did not wish to be quoted by name.

Victims' advocate David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests, had trouble with the pope's formulation of an equation between child victims and priests unfairly tainted by the scandal. He calls it "ludicrous" to compare the embarrassment of priests to the devastation of children.

The mother of a victim who was abused at age 12 and committed suicide at 29, a woman named Janet Patterson of Conway Springs, Kan., told Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll,"I'd like to see a lot more attention put on prior victims who are still struggling through life, never having the chance to live the kind of life they should."

The founder and first president of Voice of the Faithful is James Muller, a cardiologist, professor at the Harvard School of Medicine and a Nobel Peace Prize winner: He was an organizer of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. A devout Catholic, he instantly attracted attention and support when, in a personal crisis of faith, he invited the laity to make known their anger and pain inside the church. Four thousand people attended a recent convention in Boston to endorse an idea that is anathema to the Vatican -- the idea of divided power.

A native of Boston, Muller has a somewhat romantic notion that the city that gave birth to the revolution against tyrannical rule will lead the way in introducing shared authority in the church. Voice of the Faithful now has chapters in 38 states.

Voice of the Faithful does not agitate for the removal of Cardinal Law. "It isn't just Cardinal Law," Muller explains. "Sexual abuse is not just in the U.S., it's all over the world. The underlying cause is the same as it was in the Crusades, the Inquisition and other atrocities -- it's absolute power. The Vatican has done wonderful things, opposing nuclear war and the death sentence. We're not against the hierarchy; we just want to share power. We want a better church."

© 2002 The Washington Post Company