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Friday, 13 December, 2002, 11:11 GMT
Vatican bows to public opinion
Cardinal Bernard Law
Cardinal Law faced repeated demands to quit

In the end, Cardinal Bernard Law accepted the verdict of the people - he had to go.

The resignation of the Archbishop of Boston had been demanded for months, and his position finally became untenable.

Revelations about the extent of sexual abuse by priests in the archdiocese shocked churchgoers.

But the way senior members of the church tried to keep it quiet took the crisis to a new level.

Too large a proportion of the community has lost faith in his leadership

Boston Globe

The scandal was triggered by the trial of John Geoghan, a former priest, who was jailed for molesting a young boy.

He has been accused of sexually abusing dozens of children over a period of 30 years.

Although he was a known paedophile, he was simply moved from one parish to another, and continued to prey on youngsters.

Silence

Allegations about other Boston priests followed. Church leaders found themselves accused of failing to face up to a problem they had known about for years.

Demonstors with placards
In Boston, churchgoers made their feelings clear
As the city's archbishop, Cardinal Law became the focus of public anger, but seemed determined to stay in office.

He apologised to the victims, and announced a "zero tolerance" policy on sex abuse.

But he said he would remain in office to bring about changes.

Then it was alleged that he had also known about the activities of another paedophile priest, but had done nothing to keep him away from children.

It left many people in Boston with a feeling that their Church was more interested in protecting its reputation than ensuring the safety of children.

The Boston Globe called on Cardinal Law to resign, saying he was an obstacle to reform.

"Too large a proportion of the community has lost faith in his leadership," the paper said in an editorial.

Crisis

An opinion poll showed that many Catholics in Boston shared that view, and when further revelations followed, a number of priests also called on their cardinal to stand down.

Scandal in Boston
Law suits: 450
Cost: 100m?
Crimes: Child abuse, peddling drugs, assault, rape
Accusation: Church quietly moved abusing priests to avoid scandal

But as demonstrators gathered outside his residence, the cardinal made the first of two secret trips to Rome to discuss the crisis with the Pope.

After this first visit, he said that he had raised the question of demands for his resignation, but the Pope had not asked him to stand down.

Cardinal Law returned to Boston, encouraged by his reception at the Vatican.

But there was further embarrassment when he accompanied the other American cardinals on their trip to Rome for talks with the Pope and his advisers.

Accusations

He found himself pursued by the media, and at the news conference at the end of the Vatican summit, he failed to appear.

Pope John Paul II
The Pope is distressed by US revelations
It was said he had a prior engagement, but it looked to the US media as if he was trying to duck their questions.

This week, after further shocking revelations, Cardinal Law made another secret trip to the Vatican to discuss his options.

He had already drawn up a plan with church officials in Boston to file for bankruptcy.

The total number of law suits faced by the archdiocese had grown to 450, with the eventual cost to the church estimated at $100m.

The bankruptcy option would enable the church to draw a line under the scandal, halting current legal action, and preventing any new claims being made against the archdiocese.

But lawyers representing those abused by priests were dismayed.

One said it would be a form of "moral bankruptcy" for the church to jeopardise the chances of reaching a financial settlement with victims.

Growing crisis

The scandal that began in Boston has now spread across the United States.

John Geoghan in court
The scandal began with the trial of John Geoghan
Dozens of priests are under suspicion. Some have been suspended while complaints are investigated.

The US bishops have now adopted a new policy for dealing with priests who abuse children.

But plans for a "zero tolerance" approach had to be modified when the Vatican insisted on safeguards for accused priests.

With similar scandals unfolding in other parts of the Catholic world, the church has found itself facing questions about how it deals with sexual abusers in its midst.

Many priests have said that they now feel they are under suspicion. Gay priests in particular are concerned that they have come to be seen as the problem.

In Boston, the resignation of Cardinal Law may be welcomed by victims of abuse by his priests. But the crisis in the US church is far from being resolved.

The Vatican is hoping his departure will begin the process of winning back public trust in the church.

The Church has been rocked by recent abuse revelations

Boston cardinal quits

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11 Apr 02 | Americas
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