With humility and retrospection

The following excerpt from a Dec. 13, 2002, Pilot editorial--published on the morning of Cardinal Bernard Law’s resignation as Archbishop of Boston but penned two days prior to his resignation--may bring to our readers memories of the anguish that many faithful Catholics felt as we were subjected to daily revelations of past abuse and its mishandling by the Church leadership. This editorial, printed on the front page of that edition of The Pilot as testimony to the gravity of the situation, was published at probably the darkest and most sorrowful moment in the history of this archdiocese:

At press time, an ailing archdiocese waits and prays as our archbishop continues his stay in Rome, reportedly holding discussions with the Holy Father and Vatican officials on the possibility of the archdiocese filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy as well as his own future.

The latest disclosures of clergy misconduct have prompted a public reaction only comparable to that of last April, when Father Paul Shanley’s personnel files were released to the public. As in April, the latest revelations have prompted a precipitous visit by our archbishop to the Holy See.

Meanwhile, here in Boston, the proud Church that over the course of two centuries was able to build and support a thriving Catholic culture, that served so many through churches, schools and hospitals, and was the source of so many vocations to the priesthood and religious life, has been brought to its knees by the scandal that erupted almost a year ago and has exposed the wretchedness of some of its ministers and the protective culture that permeated the actions of its leaders.

The archdiocese lies fractured by the prospect of financial bankruptcy on the one hand and the renewed calls for the resignation of the cardinal on the other--this time even including some within his own ranks. In the meantime, the multitude of well-intentioned Catholics is more and more confused by the exhaustive media coverage...

Much has happened since that bleak December day. As readers go through the pages of the special section we are presenting in this week’s edition, it is our hope that they will realize, as we have, that a new picture is emerging in which light and joy and healing are increasingly present, despite setbacks that are mostly echoes of the so-called long lent of 2002, or remains of other self-inflicted wounds that are related primarily to the reconfiguration process.

As we look back to these five years since the late Pope John Paul II appointed then-Bishop Seán P. O’Malley to the see of Boston, the Church is in a far better place today than it was when Cardinal O’Malley first arrived. His modest demeanor, his strong convictions and his unwavering--yet pastoral--leadership have certainly been crucial to the increasing clarity we are experiencing. In our Cardinal Archbishop we have a mirror in which to see the qualities that the Church requires to continue the healing process.

But no one should be mistaken, or complacent. Five years is not enough to pull us out of the crisis in which the Church in Boston was mired. The journey ahead is long and the consequences of the sexual abuse of children are very real, very close to us, and will not go away any time soon.

And they shouldn’t! Those who forget the history are prone to repeat it, so never forget neither the tremendous damage inflicted to scores of children nor the consequences that a protective culture that placed the interests of the priests over the victims has caused to the Church.

So, the road ahead, defined by reaching out to those who felt alienated by the crisis, strengthening the Catholic faith and culture among Catholics, and rebuilding trust, will have to be traveled with humility and retrospection to avoid falling in the same failings that are often so close to our human nature.