Today is the first anniversary of Cardinal Bernard Law's refusal to accept
funds raised by Voice of the Faithful through its charitable fund, the Voice of
Compassion. In announcing his decision, the cardinal accused sponsors of
trying to interfere with the traditional relationship between the bishop and the
No matter that the Cardinal's Appeal had achieved less than half of its goal
because of the scandal involving his deliberate coverup of clergy sexual
abuse. Law tried to define the laity as the problem. In the end, it was one of his
greatest mistakes. The July 22 announcement set in motion a sequence of words
and actions that sharply divided priests and laity throughout the archdiocese
and helped create the toxic environment that eventually led to Law's
resignation as archbishop.
One year later - almost to the day - Bishop Sean O'Malley, a Franciscan, is
faced with the challenge of working for a climate of peace. What will it take
to do so? In the prayer of St. Francis, the petitioner calls on God to help
him/her be a peacemaker: ''Make me an instrument of Thy peace.... Where there is
hatred, let me sow love.''
Peacemakers typically confront parties who no longer trust one another. This
is the case when one looks at the relationship between victims of clergy
sexual abuse and the institutional church. While the spotlight rightly shines on
how more than 500 lawsuits brought by victims of alleged clergy sexual abuse
will be resolved, O'Malley, as peacemaker, must recognize the root causes that
produced this crisis. The forthcoming attorney general's report is a place to
How will the church - the living church - acknowledge the abuses of power
that permitted sexual abuse to occur and to be concealed? How will it correct
the injury done, respond to those who were hurt, and incorporate the lessons
learned from this tragedy into the living church of Boston? How will the
peacemaker convince the clergy and laity of the archdiocese that he is ready to pay
the price to achieve peace? O'Malley might take a lesson from another great
Like St. Francis, Mahatma Gandhi offers an instructive model of peacemaking.
Confronted with violent disputes among Hindu and Muslim factions in
postcolonial India, Gandhi began a life-threatening fast. Days passed into weeks, and
slowly the violence subsided, neither side wanting to be the ''cause'' of
Gandhi's death. But Gandhi would not end his fast. Asked what would convince him
that peace was at hand, Gandhi responded: ''Make me believe.''
At his first press conference July 1, Archbishop-designate O'Malley referred
to his mission akin to the command St. Francis heard in his time, ''Repair my
church.'' But how? Can we, the people of Boston, like Gandhi's people,
convince O'Malley that our desire to heal is real?
Here are six steps to help the process of healing the Archdiocese of Boston:
Invite the involvement of all clergy and laity. The job is too big, too
formidable for one man alone. Be humble and seek the help of all persons of good
Acknowledge the deep divisions among and between clergy, laity, and
survivors. This fractured diocese needs healing; healing begins with recognizing the
Don't play favorites. There are factions among every group - laity, clergy,
and survivors. Since the disputes are about human administration of the
church, not doctrine, there is no reason to perpetuate divisive bans against the use
of church facilities for meetings. Evenhanded leadership is essential to
Be transparent. Sunlight is essential to rebuilding trust in a failed
institution. Open the books, publish the audits, and hold public hearings on the
financial state of the archdiocese.
Be patient. We are a work in process, and it is unlikely that the venomous
mistrust that has grown in past years will evaporate quickly.
Pray. Do it in private, do it in public. The more people you enlist in
prayerful steps to address this crisis, the better the chance of effecting change.
Nothing has been more destructive to the morale and faith of ordinary
Catholics than the behavior of their bishops. One year ago, Cardinal Law mistakenly
blamed the laity. This year, O'Malley's great challenge is to make us believe
that his call for peace is genuine. Blessed be the peacemaker.