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Law Resigns: Cardinal's Departure May Be First of Many

By Jules Crittenden
Boston (MA) Herald
December 14, 2002

The Vatican is justified in its fears that Bernard Cardinal Law's resignation will have a domino effect, according to those who have closely followed the crisis.

"Every bishop is looking over his shoulder tonight," said New Jersey lawyer Stephen Rubino, who has litigated dozens of priest sex-abuse cases. "The laity want their church back. There isn't a diocese that hasn't been touched by this."

Thomas Fox, publisher of the National Catholic Reporter, said the momentum has long been building among alienated laity, priests and wealthy donors.

Law's resignation tells bishops "you cannot extricate yourself from the depths to which you have sunk when for 20 years you have practiced denial," Fox said. "Law is a station on the railroad tracks, and the train will continue on."

The letter by 58 Boston-area priests calling for Law's resignation, considered a major influence on the pope's decision, may embolden other priests.

"These ideas move quickly," he said. Fox said he believes the Vatican could derail that train with a "dramatic gesture" such as the mass resignation of the most complicit bishops. But he said, "There is no one in the church with the ability to get a handle on it. Therefore, what we'll see is a slow bleed."

High-ranking clerics who may face pressure to resign because of their years of involvement in alleged coverups include:

** Former Boston bishops who played key roles here and in their new dioceses, including Bishop John McCormack of New Hampshire; Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis.; Archbishop Alfred Hughes of New Orleans; Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y.; and Bishop Thomas V. Daily of Brooklyn, N.Y.

** Edward Cardinal Egan of New York; Roger Cardinal Mahony of Los Angeles; Theodore Cardinal McCarrick of Washington, D.C.; Bishop Anthony Pilla of Cleveland, Ohio; Bishop James Kinney of St. Cloud, Minn.; and others.

A statement yesterday by the Catholic League, attacking survivors' groups, their lawyers and prosecutors, disputed the idea of a domino effect, saying, "Some are already beating the war drums going after bishops of other dioceses. This is absurd: everyone knows that no other diocese in the nation was qualitatively or quantitatively comparable to Boston. To suggest otherwise is to play into the hands of Fifth-Column Catholics."

Jason Berry, who wrote "Lead Us Not Into Temptation," about the first public priest-pedophilia crisis in Louisiana in the 1980s, said he doubts that many bishops will face the confluence of pressures that Law faced here in Boston - a heavily Catholic, highly educated area with an activist laity and priests, fueled by aggressive newspapers and a large number of lawsuits.

"I don't think there is nearly the volume of intensity elsewhere that you find in Boston," said Berry, who suggested that many tainted bishops might be able to hang on. "Cleveland is not Boston. New Orleans is not Boston."

But Berry said, "The dike has broken. The real question is, how aggressive will prosecutors and grand juries be in other jurisdictions?"

Jeffrey R. Anderson, a Minnesota lawyer who has litigated priest cases for 20 years, said of Boston, "It isn't anomalous. It just happened first. What happened today foreshadows what will happen in many other places before too long."

Rubino said, "I've gotten calls from at least 15 prosecutors from around the country in the last two weeks. They all want to know where you find the documents. My sense is there is huge momentum."

[Photo Captions: ON THE SPOT: Bishop William F. Murphy of Rockville Centre, N.Y., above left, and Bishop Robert J. Banks of Green Bay, Wis. - with Cardinal Bernard Law in 1988 - as well as Bishop John McCormack of New Hampshire, below, all may face pressure to resign. AP FILE PHOTOS.]

 
 

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