Cardinal sins

Celebrations of someone’s death are saved for the most heinous and reviled among the human population, but it is safe to say those who are sad about the passing of Cardinal Bernard Law will be far outweighed by those who will not mourn the death of the former head of the Boston See.

Law died in his comfortable Vatican exile this morning at the age of 86 and the reaction was swift and harsh by those who lay the clergy sex abuse at his feet.

“I hope the gates of hell are swinging wide open to welcome him,” Alexa MacPherson, a clergy sex abuse survivor, told the Boston Globe. And that was among the more mild reactions online and on talk shows where Law was labeled “Bernie the Pimp” and compared to Hitler.

It’s easy to pin the scandal on Law. He was the prelate in charge when the Globe broke its Pulitzer Prize-winning reporting, kicking off a year-long frenzy in local media in 2002 about what Law knew and did until he resigned in early December of that year. The evidence is he knew plenty, did little, and orchestrated a cover-up to protect the church, and in turn pedophile priests, instead of protecting children.

But what is often lost and forgotten is Law was an avatar for the church’s problems, not the sole cause. Many of the accusations of child abuse in the Boston Archdiocese predated him and there was a paper trail showing that not only his predecessor, Cardinal Humberto Medeiros, was aware of the problem, but the revered Cardinal Richard Cushing swept things under the rug as well, quietly shifting abusive priests between parishes. Both John Geoghan and Paul Shanley, two of the more infamous predatory priests, began their reigns of terror abetted by church cover-ups in the 1960s and into the 1970s, long before Law arrived.

And while Boston became the epicenter of the scandal, it was happening around the world, in places such as Chicago, New Orleans, Dallas, Los Angeles, Dublin, and Germany. It was even happening down the road, as shown by convicted child rapist James Porter from the Fall River diocese in the late 1980s. Other prelates were forced out, but few exemplified the scandal like Law and the tone-deaf and corporate-speak manner in which he denounced abusive priests.

The Globe and Law are inextricably linked through the paper’s reporting and the acclaimed movie Spotlight. Law’s death comes at a time when the paper is taking heat for publishing a story on sexual harassment by employees at the newspaper and not naming names. Critics of the Globe have likened the newspaper’s action to the church’s efforts to keep the names of abusive priests private. The conservative Catholic League, which has never forgiven the Globe for the coverage of the scandal and the ouster of Law, has been making the ties to whomever will listen.

As Joan Vennocchi wrote in Tuesday’s Globe, there are levels of sexual misconduct the same way there are levels of crime and sexual harassment. Comments, unwanted advances, and leering, while wholly unacceptable, are not the same as child rape.

Law’s legacy is and should be the sex abuse scandal but he came to Boston with a background that endeared him to the faithful. He was a vocal and vociferous participant in the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi in the early 1960s and, as editor of a diocesan newspaper there, called for the end of segregation. His actions earned him death threats from the faithful.

Once here, he used his post as a bully pulpit to espouse church teachings to influence political issues. Law led the annual anti-abortion March for Life and became a trusted confidant of both Presidents Ronald Reagan and, especially, George H.W. Bush. His outspoken conservatism endeared him to Republicans and got him seats at the table for issues of national importance, raising the visibility and influence of the Boston Archdiocese.

But his downfall was swift and when he was brought down, the church in Boston went with him, with donations and attendance falling off the cliff and resulting in the closing of scores of churches in the Archdiocese and more than $100 million in settlements with hundreds of victims.

Perhaps Phil Saviano, one of the key people in breaking open the scandal as a member of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), summed up Law’s life and tenure best.

“He was in such a position to do so much good for so many people,” Saviano told the Globe. “And yet somehow, he decided that the reputation and the protection of those 200 child-molesting priests in the archdiocese was more important than the well-being of thousands of children and parishioners.”

Amen.

JACK SULLIVAN


BEACON HILL

Gov. Charlie Baker expresses impatience with the pace of action by the Legislature. (Boston Globe)

A Herald editorial says the state Department of Early Education and Care and Department of Children and Families better get things right after an audit found lots of problems with group homes housing foster children.

A toll-free number is being provided for those wanting to share information with the investigators looking into former Senate president Stanley Rosenberg. (MassLive)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

Both branches of Congress narrowly passed the controversial $1.5 trillion tax cut. Before sending it to President Trump for his signature, the House has to revote on it after approving the measure with some errors in it that were fixed by the Senate. (New York Times)

A new Quinnipiac College poll shows half of the country’s voters, split along party lines, think President Trump should be the next to go because of sexual harassment charges. The poll also gives former President Barack Obama more credit for the state of the economy than Trump. (U.S. News & World Report)

The British government announces that access to high-speed broadband service will be a legal requirement in 2020. (The Guardian)

The US Congress spent $115,000 to settle sexual harassment claims against members over a four-year period. (Time)

ELECTIONS

Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley is reported to be “seriously considering” a Democratic primary challenge next year against US Rep. Michael Capuano. (Politico) Joe Battenfeld says a potential Pressley run is a sign of the times, as younger politicians don’t seem content to wait in line for seats to open up and incumbency doesn’t seem the guarantee of reelection it has often been. (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Donald Grebien, the mayor of Pawtucket, says the deal Worcester and the state of Massachusetts are offering the PawSox “is rumored to be cheaper for the team.” (Telegram & Gazette)

A Lowell Sun editorial says a TV series filming at New England Studios in Devens is strong evidence that the state’s film tax credit is working well.

Some former Boston Herald workers say they can’t get any information about the pensions they counted on being there when they retire. (Boston Business Journal)

A Texas businessman who owns the second-most Burger King franchises in the county,  including 43 in Massachusetts, has been fined $250,000 by the state attorney general’s office for more than 840 child labor violations at his Massachusetts restaurants on the South Shore. (Patriot Ledger)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A report from a national non-profit determines Massachusetts and Rhode Island are among the best prepared states to protect citizens in the case of a disease outbreak, bioterrorism, or natural disaster. (Herald News)

TRANSPORTATION

The MBTA is still several years away from full deployment of new control systems that would automatically stop commuter rail trains traveling at excessive speeds, which may have been cause of a fatal Amtrak train derailment earlier this week outside Seattle. (Boston Herald) A Globe editorial laments the delays that kept “positive train control” systems from being fully deployed.

A European court rules that Uber is a taxi company and not a technology firm connection riders and drivers. (BBC)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Walk-on prices at Singing Beach in Manchester will rise from $5 to $7 next summer. (Gloucester Times)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

A man who has spent 30 years in a Massachusetts prison for murder was granted a new trial by a judge who said his original trail was tainted by racial bias and misconduct. (New England Center for Investigative Reporting)

A Norwell woman was sentenced to six months in jail after she pleaded guilty to secretly recording grand jury proceedings in a Marshfield murder case by slipping a cell phone in the jacket pocket of a friend who testified before the panel. (Patriot Ledger)

Investigators found the body of a Department of Correction officer from Mashpee in the woods of Plymouth and police are eyeing his son as a suspect in the death of the man who had been missing since December 1. (Cape Cod Times)

Four teenagers have been killed in Boston since Halloween, with a Dorchester teenager killed not far from St. Peter’s Church on Bowdoin Street. (Boston Globe)

MEDIA

Twelve more people step forward with concerns about WBUR host Tom Ashbrook. Eleven people originally complained. Ashbrook said the latest complaints include allegations that are untrue. (WBUR)

Northeastern University journalism professor and media critic Dan Kennedy predicts the bubble is about to burst for the free digital-only media sites reliant on advertising as investors realize Google and Facebook are sucking up all the ad revenue. (WGBH)

The Atlantic is putting up a paywall. (Wall Street Journal)