Sunday, April 03, 2005

In Boston, Mourning Is Tinged by Criticism

April 3, 2005
In Boston, Mourning Is Tinged by Criticism

BOSTON, April 2 - Jack Connors, a prominent member of this city's large Roman Catholic community, has a resonant memory of Pope John Paul II's visit to Boston in 1979. Throngs of people descended on Boston Common for a public Mass, many waiting for hours in a torrential rain.

"I was drenched," Mr. Connors said. "My kids wanted to know why are we here. We should have known it was a sign that we were in for some stormy weather."

It is the kind of anecdote that crystallizes the complex feelings many here have toward Pope John Paul II, who died on Saturday at the age of 84. It is a sense of awe and affection mixed with disappointment at his handling of the clergy sexual abuse crisis that exploded in Boston three years ago and continues to reverberate here.

"Am I angry with him? No," Mr. Connors said. "He was a good man and did what he thought was right. But regrettably, there wasn't as much thoughtfulness and oversight as one might hope for."

Similar reactions were common this weekend as many of the two million Catholics in and around Boston struggled with how to reconcile the respect and warmth they felt for John Paul with what they saw as too little attention paid too late to the problem of sexually abusive priests. In particular, there was criticism that when Cardinal Bernard F. Law was forced out of his position as Boston archbishop because of the scandal, he was not chastised or demoted, but was named archpriest of one of the four basilicas under Vatican direction in Rome, St. Mary Major Basilica.

"I think that it's fair to say that John Paul had kind of a love affair with Boston from the time he was archbishop of Krakow and he made a trip here," said Dr. James E. Post, a Boston University professor who is president of Voice of the Faithful, a lay Catholic group that formed in response to the sexual abuse crisis. Adding to Boston's sense of connection with the pope, he said, was the appointment of Boston's former mayor, Raymond Flynn, as American ambassador to the Vatican in the mid-1990's. "There was always a perception of a warm relationship between the people of Boston and the Holy Father."

But, Dr. Post said, "His behavior in response to the sex abuse crisis disappointed many Catholics. He seemed very reluctant to remove Cardinal Law or accept Cardinal Law's resignation. His personal relationship with the cardinal seemed to stand in the way of his being willing to address the problems of the archdiocese."

Dr. Post said Boston Catholics appreciated some of what the pope eventually did, including meeting with American cardinals about the crisis.

"But when he brought Cardinal Law back to Rome and gave him the appointment at Mary Major, that was more than puzzling - it was deeply disturbing to Catholics in Boston," Dr. Post said. "It seemed that he was being rewarded for bad behavior, and run-of-the-mill ordinary Catholics just saw this as de facto an insult to the people of Boston."

The Rev. Walter Cuenin, pastor of Our Lady Help of Christians in Newton, one of dozens of priests who signed a petition seeking Cardinal Law's resignation in 2002, said he, too, felt that the pope's legacy in Boston was mixed.

In some ways he had a major, positive impact, Father Cuenin said, like his "outreach to the Jewish people," which encouraged substantial interfaith cooperation in Newton, a Boston suburb with many Jewish residents.

And Father Cuenin credited the pope for replacing Cardinal Law with Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, who quickly moved to pay financial settlements to sexual abuse victims who had sued the church.

But, Father Cuenin said: "For some Catholics, the sex abuse crisis, the way it was handled, the cover-up by the bishops, and then the appointment to Rome of Cardinal Law was not well received and remains a sore spot. There was a lot of feeling that the Vatican was somewhat distant from the crisis, and didn't seem to appreciate what was going on here. I think people would have felt better had Cardinal Law resigned from his ecclesial duties as all the priests involved in the sex abuse crisis had to do."

He added that the fact that Cardinal Law would be able to vote for the next pope, when Archbishop O'Malley cannot because he is not yet a cardinal, "is difficult for a lot of people."

Not every Catholic here shared such feelings.

"I think especially now, people of goodwill have a sense of admiration and loss," said Peter Meade, executive vice president of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. "The man has accomplished so much, and I would hope people would let him be at peace."

But Bernie McDaid, who said he was abused by the Rev. Joseph E. Birmingham, was one of those wrestling with conflicting feelings. Father Birmingham, who died in 1989, was accused of molesting dozens of boys.

"I do not dislike the pope personally - he's probably a good man - but as far as this issue is concerned, there's been so much misunderstanding and fear," said Mr. McDaid, who along with a group of victims sought a meeting with the pope two years ago, and instead met with a Vatican official in Rome.

"They raped and robbed my soul, and there's almost a shame and a fear to acknowledge this and deal directly with this issue," he said. "I certainly felt stonewalled all the way up from the Boston diocese to Rome. I don't want to come off as callous and full of malice. But I had personally hoped that this pope would have been the one to come out publicly on this issue."

Dr. Post said he hoped that the next pope would "recognize that the sex abuse crisis worldwide is not over," and he added that there needed to be a "restoration of the church's moral integrity."

Father Cuenin said he expected that the new pope would be "a little more moderate, and perhaps someone who's not going to be pope for a long time."

"They have a saying in Italy now that the new pope will be old, Italian and not like to fly," he said. "Sometimes a shorter papacy is desired so the church can shift gears a little bit. And there is another saying that after a thin pope, you need a fat pope."

At a Mass at the Gate of Heaven Parish in South Boston shortly after the pope's death was announced, Deborah Hayes, 49, a parking attendant from South Boston, said the pope could have done more to help the archdiocese after the sexual abuse crisis and should not have reassigned Cardinal Law to Rome.

"I don't agree with it," Ms. Hayes said. "It was a reward, and there shouldn't have been a reward. If anything there should have been some jail time."

But another parishioner, Nancy Menjin, 44, of South Boston, who recalled watching the pope in a parade during his 1979 visit, said John Paul did all he could during the sexual abuse scandal.

"He's so far removed from here," she said. "I think more should have been done here at home. It's a long way from Rome."

Katie Zezima contributed reporting for this article.