Fallen Kings: How Cardinal Law’s Reign Cemented The Church’s Fading Power

Cardinal Law celebrated mass in April 2005 inside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City.


When the cardinal’s residence was built in the 1920s atop a hill in the leafy, most western outpost of Boston, it was modeled after an Italian palazzo. The grand mansion, replete with ornate mahogany and marble appointments, has stood as a testament to the Boston Archdioceses’ stature in the very Catholic city of Boston. Political candidates — local and national — would come calling, and even the Pope came to visit.

When Cardinal Bernard Law took up residence in the Renaissance Revival mansion, Boston’s Roman Catholic movers and shakers would flock to the backyard for his garden party fundraisers.

Today, it’s a steady stream of students hauling backpacks, and members of the public traipsing across that same property. The mansion, now owned by Boston College, has been gutted and converted to an art museum and meeting rooms — a remarkable fall from grace that parallels that of the Boston Archdiocese itself.

A total of 65 acres of prime church property – possibly its most valuable in Massachusetts — was sold in a fire sale, after the clergy sexual abuse crisis, when the church was struggling to pay some $85 million dollars in settlements to victims. In the years since, the cost of settling claims surpassed $200 million, and the church’s declining fortunes have been more than just financial.

Cardinal Law’s death this week reawakened a flood of emotion and anger over the decades of sexual abuse that finally came to light in 2002, and at the archbishop’s role in allowing predator priests to move to new parishes, where they would prey on more unsuspecting victims. The revelations that began in Boston eventually engulfed the church worldwide, and the reverberations continue to be felt, nowhere more so than in the once all-powerful Boston Archdiocese.

“The church’s influence took a big hit in 2002, that’s undeniable,” says Domenico Bettinelli, who used to be director of new media for the Archdiocese, and now works as an anti-abortion rights activist. “There’s no doubt that since the great scandal broke … our public voice has been muted in many ways because our moral authority has rightly been questioned.”

It’s a far cry from the old days, when the church was almighty, and the cardinal was closer to king, according to Thomas P. O’Neill III, former Massachusetts state legislator and lieutenant governor. He’s also son of the former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill.

“When my dad served in the state legislature and Cardinal [Richard James] Cushing said [to do] something, I can assure you, a Catholic majority in the state legislature paid attention to it, and did it,” says O’Neill.

Powerful ambitions

Cardinal Law long hoped he could also command that kind of obedience, after he arrived in Boston in 1984. With his booming baritone, and penchant for the regal trappings of the office, he did engender a deference and reverence that was in no small part derived from his influence with the Vatican. As one of the most senior American prelates, he was as well-connected as he was well-regarded outside Boston. He had the ear of Pope John Paul II, and was talked about as the man who might become the first American Pope. He was in regular conversation with President George H. W. Bush, and was a player on the world stage, instrumental in arranging the Pope’s first visit to Cuba; He was described in a 1990 newspaper article as “the first Archbishop of Boston to have a foreign policy.”

Boston’s Cardinal Bernard Law conducts his first Mass after being appointed a Cardinal, at Our Lady of Victories Church in Boston.

A 1990 Boston Globe story, headlined “The Cardinal’s Ambitions,” outlines a typical week in Law’s life;

“He had mulled over Third World debt with Mexican bankers in Washington, D.C., brainstormed anti-abortion strategy with U.S. bishops in New York City, and jolted a visiting Northern Ireland official with a pointed question about conditions in Catholic schools there. The following Sunday he would leave for Cuba and his second tete-a-tete with Fidel Castro.”

But at home, the Catholic Church’s influence was on a slow decline that had begun under Law’s immediate predecessor, Cardinal Humberto Sousa Medeiros, who largely refrained from politics. By the time Law came to town, shifting demographics and changing social mores had significantly changed the landscape, further diminishing the church’s authority. And much as he wanted to reclaim the clout wielded by Cardinal Cushing, Cardinal Law never quite could.

“Law wanted to play that role and recreate that world, in a sense, but that world was already gone,” says James O’Toole, a history professor at Boston College, and former archivist for the Archdiocese of Boston. “There was a kind of polish to him as someone who knew what position he was in, and he was going to run with that, but he wasn’t able to do it.”

“By the time I got [into politics], you weighed everything that was being said by the church hierarchy, and you did it respectfully,” says O’Neill. “But did you follow blindly? No. Those days were all gone by the time I got there. [Lawmakers] paid attention to [Cardinal Law] … but they did not always comply.”

The election of 1986, O’Toole says, already revealed how the cardinal’s rigid Roman orthodoxy, and rightward leaning wasn’t flying with his Massachusetts flock. Cardinal Law lobbied for two referendum questions: one to ban state funding for abortion, and the other to permit some state support of parochial schools.

“Cardinal Law campaigned very strongly on both of those issues and he lost both of them decisively,” O’Toole says.

Cardinal Bernard Law embraced and kissed by Pope John Paul II as he is officially installed as cardinal by the Pontiff during a solemn Consistory in St. Peter’s Square in 1985.

By the time another decade passed, the gap had so swollen between Boston’s Catholic Church and Boston Catholics on social issues, leaving Cardinal Law venting that both Massachusetts senators and the governor were wrong on the abortion issue.

“Only I am right,” he said.

A few years later, the church would also falter in its efforts to block gay marriage, as lawmakers were paying more heed to the voice of their constituents, than the cardinal’s’s.

“There used to be an assumption that [the archdiocese] was speaking for the majority of people in the church,” says State Rep. Byron Rushing. “But the average Roman Catholic state representative or state senator knew that there were many Roman Catholics in their district that are in favor of it. They weren’t all on the same page … [like] in the old days.”

Still, the institutional power of the Catholic Church in heavily Catholic Boston, would continue to earn Law a ranking by Boston Magazine as one of the three most powerful figures in Boston, even through the late 90s.

Protecting its own

Indeed, former Attorney General Martha Coakley says that sway was what enabled the Archdiocese to keep the lid on the clergy abuse and on what higher-ups were doing that allowed the abuse to continue.

“The church as an institution was incredibly powerful in Boston, in protecting its records and using its authority to cover up what was in retrospect, an awful conspiracy to hide [the abuse] and protect the church’s reputation,” she says.

Furious backlash

But when the 2002 sexual abuse crisis threw the church into turmoil, and prompted a furious backlash, it was all over. With the church under siege, the balance of power shifted abruptly.

Law became the “poster boy” for the church’s cover up. The cardinal’s mansion was surrounded every day by swarms of protesters calling for his resignation. From his mightiest perch, he was reduced to being grilled by victims’ lawyers, under oath, about what he knew and when he knew it. One attorney recalls that when pressed during a deposition, Law turned to his attorney, protesting and asking if he really had to answer. The answer came back that yes, he did.

Philippine President Corazon Aquino receives Holy Communion from Cardinal Law during Mass at St. Ignatius Church in Newton, Mass. in 1986.

“The church lost all its influence,” Rushing says. On Beacon Hill, the church’s longtime lobbyist, who’d been a fixture at the statehouse, didn’t even dare show up.

“I would joke with him,” Rushing recalls. “You know like, ‘You can always come into my office, because I know you don’t want to go anywhere else in the building.'”

The cardinal, never shy to testify himself on legislation or use his bully pulpit, was rendered effectively mute. He was side-lined on issues he would have been spearheading, like a Boston Hotel workers strike that involved poor and immigrant workers.

Legislation moved through the State House, including requiring health insurance to cover contraception, and hospitals to offer the morning-after pill. On the other hand, Rushing says the church’s retreat was a big blow to other progressive/liberal efforts he would have liked the church’s help on, like increased assistance to the poor people and immigrants.

“We lost that lobby,” Rushing says. “They just stopped doing it.”

Shortly after the crisis, some Catholic priests in Massachusetts were even flouting the church by speaking out against a ban on gay marriages in Massachusetts, prompting a stern rebuke from above.

At the same time, the church’s financial clout took a nosedive as well. Angry, disillusioned parishioners were leaving in droves, and donations — from collection plates and large institutions— were drying up. After the crisis, the annual Boston Catholic Appeal plummeted to half of what it was.

“Everything went right over the cliff,” said one church official, not authorized to speak on the record. “We were basically in a freefall.”

O’Neill says the Catholic faithful began to distinguish between the mission of the church, and the institution of the church, and found ways to support the former but not the latter. He says that’s still happening, as he saw recently, when fundraising for a local Catholic school.

“In the old days the Catholic Church would support it almost in its entirety,” he says. “Today, you have private folks making contributions directly to [foundations that support that mission] as opposed to through the apparatus of the archdiocese.”

Climbing out out of crisis mode

By all accounts, Cardinal Sean O’Malley, has worked small miracles to restore confidence in the church. Soft-spoken, and low key (he’s way more comfortable in the traditional plain brown habit of his Franciscan order, than the regal garb that Cardinal law favored), O’Malley, has showed genuine compassion for the victims, and a deep commitment to their healing and to church reform. Church officials say attendance has finally stabilized, and donations have climbed back up to pre-crisis levels.

The coffin of former Archbishop of Boston U.S. Cardinal Bernard Law at the St. Peter’s Basilica on Thursday.

“If you told me before Sean O’Malley had become the cardinal of Boston, that anyone could have come and done the repair that Sean O’Malley has done, I’m not sure I wouldn’t have believed you,” says O’Neill. I think everybody — even Catholics not practicing today — have a very deep seated respect for Cardinal O’Malley.”

Politically, the Archdiocese is slowly recovering some of its voice, but seems to be strategically picking and choosing its fights, to stay more in sync with Boston Catholics. For example, O’Malley has been championing the cause of undocumented immigrants and speaking out on opioid addiction, violence prevention, and education.

“We’re out of crisis mode now, and Cardinal O’Malley is much more engaged politically,” the church official says.

The church recently managed to pull off a legislative win, helping to defeating a measure that would have allowed physician assisted suicide. But Bettinelli cautions even that vote doesn’t necessarily mean an upswing in the church’s influence.

“Lawmakers are voting “based on their faith,” he says. “But I don’t think it’s necessarily because they are being influenced by [O’Malley].”

Catholic participation remains low; just about 20 percent attend weekly mass, compared to 70 percent in the 1970’s, according to the church. Money remains tight, and despite the softer tone coming from both Pope Francis and Cardinal O’Malley, doctrine is not budging on issues like abortion, contraception, or gay marriage, and so the chasm between the church and many of its parishioners on social issues is only widening.

“The rigid school of catholic doctrine … doesn’t sell in the 21st century,” says says Lawrence DiCara who was Boston City Council president in the 1970s.

Close to 70 parishes have been eliminated since 2004, a trend almost surely accelerated by the scandal, but reflective of the broader shift of Catholic America from the old heartland of Boston, N.Y., Chicago and Philly, to the South and Southwest.

Today, as Cardinal O’Malley tries to reboot and boost the Catholic Church, in keeping with his more down-to-earth style, he lives in a modest rectory in the heart of Boston, far from the once majestic mansion that was home to his predecessors.

O’Neill was one of the “movers and shakers” who once reveled at the big parties at Cardinal Law’s residence. “Those were the happy days,” he sighs.

He was also there for the small, private meeting, when a handful of Law’s closest confidantes told His Eminence it was time to quit.

“That was the end of it,” O’Neill says.

Now, he says, “this church is a church in repair, and we have a long way to go.” Then, ever faithful, he adds, “But I think the [new] leadership is destined to do the right thing, and get us to that point.”

As O’Toole puts it, “it’s dangerous for a historian to talk about the future but … the revival will come at some point. You know maybe 100, or 200 years from now … But I don’t think [this decline] will be permanent.”

Complete Article HERE!


Catholic Church Singled Out In Australian Sex Abuse Report

The bronze statue of Cardinal Moran stands by the entrance of St. Mary’s Cathedral, in Sydney, Australia.


In a far-reaching report on child sex abuse in Australia, a government commission is recommending that the country’s Catholic Church lift its celibacy requirement for diocesan clergy and be required to report evidence of abuse revealed in confession.

Those are among the 400 recommendations contained in the 17-volume final report of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse, which is wrapping up a five-year investigation – the longest in Australia’s history.

“We have concluded that there were catastrophic failures of leadership of Catholic Church authorities over many decades,” the report said.

The Australian reports: “More than 15,000 people contacted the commission to share their experiences of abuse, more than 8,000 of them spoke personally with the commissioner about the trauma it caused, and approximately 2,500 cases have now been referred to police.”

The commission said the church failed to properly address allegations and concerns of victims, calling the Church’s response to them “remarkably and disturbingly similar.”

The report also detailed abuse in churches of other denominations and at such institutions as schools and sports clubs. However, it concluded that the greatest number of alleged abuse perpetrators were found in Catholic institutions. The commission has concluded that 7 percent of priests who worked in Australia between 1950 and 2009 had been accused of child sex abuse.

Among the report’s recommendations:

  • A national strategy to prevent child abuse, with a national office of child safety.
  • Making failure to protect a child from risk of abuse within an institution a criminal offense on the state and territory level.
  • Implementing preventative training for children in schools and early childhood center.
  • A requirement that candidates for religious ministry undergo external psychological testing.
  • Any person in a religious ministry subject to a substantiated child sex abuse complaint should be permanently removed from the ministry.

Currently, Australian law exempts confessional evidence from the rules that apply to other kinds of evidence in court, according to The National Catholic Register.

“We recommend that canon law be amended so that the ‘pontifical secret’ does not apply to any aspect of allegations or canonical disciplinary processes relating to child sexual abuse,” the report said.

It said that “Religious ministers, out-of-home care workers, childcare workers, registered psychologists and school [counselors] should be brought into line with police, doctors and nurses who are all obliged by law to report sexual abuse,” according to The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

“Without a legal obligation to tell police about abuses, many staff and volunteers failed to let anyone outside the institution know, the commission found,” the Herald reported.

The commission called for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference to ask the Vatican to introduce voluntary celibacy for clergy. The commission found that clerical celibacy was not a direct cause of abuse, but that it increased the risk of abuse when celibate male clergy had privileged access to children.

In an official statement, Archbishop Denis Hart of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference, apologized for past abuse, calling it a “shameful past” and said the commission’s report “will be taken very seriously.”

However, speaking to reporters later, Hart said the commission’s report “hasn’t damaged the credibility of the church” and called the recommendations on the confessional “a distraction.”

“The seal of the confessional, or the relationship with God that’s carried through the priest and with the person, is inviolable. It can’t be broken,” Hart told reporters.

“I think everyone understands that this Catholic and orthodox practice of confession is always confidential,” he said.

Hart also pushed back on the subject of celibacy: “We know very well that institutions who have celibate clergy and institutions that don’t have celibate clergy both face these problems. We know very well that this happens in families that are certainly not observing celibacy.”

The commission’s findings follow numerous allegations of sex abuse by Catholic priests in Australia in recent years. In June, Police in Victoria charged Cardinal George Pell, now a high-ranking Vatican official, with sex abuse dating to his time as a priest in Australia in the 1970s and 80s. Pell has denied the allegations.

The report concluded: “Tens of thousands of children have been sexually abused in many Australian institutions. We will never know the true number.” the report concluded.

“It is not a case of a few ‘rotten apples.’ Society’s major institutions have seriously failed,” it said.

Complete Article HERE!


No surprise that Bishop Robert Morlino and Co. imperil Christianity’s good name, again

Robert Morlino, bishop of the Diocese of Madison, gives his homily during an ordination Mass at St. Maria Goretti Catholic Parish in Madison in 2015.


At least two online petitions have been started to protest the decision by Madison’s ironically conservative Catholic diocese to provide advice to priests on whether some gay deceased should be denied funeral rites.

As a Christian, I find it repugnant that any religious institution calling itself Christian would wobble on whether to give a grieving family a Christian burial for their loved one. As if deeming homosexuality a sin weren’t silly enough, the Catholic Church considers denying spiritual comfort to the families of gay people.

Just as bad is the harm such un-Christ-like behavior could do to Christianity’s brand and its relationship to government.

One of the petitions calls for Pope Francis to remove Madison Bishop Robert Morlino from his position, while the other calls on Morlino to rescind the guidance allowing priests to deny full funeral rights to gay Catholics. Both miss the point.

Recalling Morlino isn’t going to suddenly cause the church to fully accept gays and become what my denomination calls “open and affirming.” Francis has talked a better talk on this issue, but he’s yet to walk a better walk — which is why it wouldn’t be in line with Catholic teachings for the Madison diocese to declare that the gay deceased are entitled to funeral rites.

Refusing the rites to a specific class of people doesn’t raise the same kinds of constitutional questions raised by, say, a baker refusing to bake a cake for a gay wedding.

“The courts, in the name of protecting religious liberty, typically have given religious organizations fairly wide latitude to engage in practices that might seem to be discriminatory in a secular context,” said Shawn Peters, an expert in religious freedom from UW-Madison.

The, ahem, good news is that if a gay person or her family wants a Christian burial, there are plenty of Christian churches that will provide it — as long as those wanting the funeral don’t consider Catholicism is the only true Christianity, in which case they shouldn’t expect a Catholic funeral anyway.

The bad news is that because of the Catholic Church’s considerable size and influence, the pronouncements of Morlino and Co. put Christianity generally in a bad light, while making it look as if longstanding tax breaks for Christian churches and clergy amount to government endorsement of bigotry.

Peters said he didn’t think that in our “current political environment” tax breaks for religious organizations are “seriously at risk.” But earlier this month a federal judge struck down a tax break for clergy housing allowances.

I’m not sure any occupation should be singled out for a housing-related tax break, although it seems a small indulgence given how little clergy are paid and how much they help raise for charity the government might otherwise have to provide. One 2013 analysis estimated Catholic groups spent some $30 billion on social services annually, although some of their funding comes from government.

Christians can find evidence of such mission work just about every Sunday at church. But the work looks less Christ-like if the church deems some people unworthy of Christ’s grace, including after they die.

Complete Article HERE!


Madison diocese advice to priests on LGBT funerals causes grief

File Under:  Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure


A top aide to Bishop Robert Morino issued guidance to priests in the Catholic Diocese of Madison that critics say could limit the availability of funeral rites within the church for gay people.

Vicar General James Bartylla emailed a newsletter to priests earlier in October, with the bishop’s approval, that says rites “may be denied for manifest sinners” if they would cause unavoidable “public scandal of the faithful,” the Wisconsin State Journal reported this week.

The message laid out a series of “general considerations” for priests to keep in mind if asked to perform Catholic funeral rites by a deceased person’s family or same-sex partner, including whether “the deceased or the ‘partner’ was a ‘promoter of the gay lifestyle.’”

The “attitude” of the deceased’s family members, especially toward the church, and whether the deceased person showed “some signs of repentance before death,” also were cited as prominent considerations.

“My short answer to pastors and parochial vicars in these cases is to think through the issue thoroughly and prudently,” Bartylla wrote in the email. “The pastoral task is to minimize the risk of scandal and confusion to others amidst the solicitude for the deceased and family.”

Vicar General James Bartylla (she’s got issues)

Diocese spokesman Brent King in emails to the newspaper stressed what he described as the advisory nature of the vicar general’s message.

“The only word used in Saturday’s email was ‘consideration’ or ‘considerations,’” King said. “There were no directives, bans, or even real guidelines. other than what is written in canon law. If there was any directive, it was, ‘Think through the issue thoroughly and prudently.’”

The newsletter said any surviving partner “should not have any public or prominent role” at any church funeral rite.

It also said there should be no mention of the surviving partner’s name and no reference to “the unnatural union” in “any liturgical booklet, prayer card, homily, sermon, talk by the priest, deacon, etc.?…”

An advocacy group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Catholics said the message only served to distance LGBT people and their families from the church.

“This document is the very antithesis of pastoral care,” Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of DignityUSA, said in a statement . “It shows that this bishop believes that lesbian and gay people who have lived a deep commitment to a spouse or partner should be demeaned even in death. Our families could be refused the sacraments of our faith at the moment of their greatest grief.”

A diocesan statement criticized the public airing of Bartylla’s message, which emerged through the Minnesota-based progressive Catholic blog Pray Tell.

“Those who place at risk the ability of the bishop to communicate with his priests confidentially do a grave harm to the Church and perform, indeed, what Sacred Scripture calls ‘a work of darkness,’” the statement said.

Complete Article HERE!


Bill Donohue, Catholic League Head Loser, Trashes Famed OC Catholic Sex-Abuse Survivor

Joelle Casteix has been the volunteer Western Regional director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) since 2003.

By Gustavo Arellano

Bill Donohue, for those of you who aren’t mackerel snappers, is the Roger Ailes of the Catholic Church: a big, fat CHAVALA who depends on the elderly to fund his comfy lifestyle and be able to trash good people for a living. He’s the head of the Catholic League, which is as relevant to modern-day Catholics as the rhythm method yet still gets play in conservative media. We’ve featured Donohue’s whining before—like when he tried to accuse me of targeting only Catholic pedophiles instead of ALL pedophiles, or when he inadvertently defended Eleuterio Ramos, OC’s worst-ever pedophile priest, a guy who admitted to molesting “at least” 25 boys.

And now Donohue returns to Orange County with another whiny screed—although he doesn’t dare call out his target by name. In a May 18 press release titled “Victims’ Pros Lie about NY Archdiocese,” Donohue rails against the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests (SNAP), which has only been one of the most important organizations in the United States fighting against pedo-priests and their enablers in the Catholic Church. Donohue has never liked them because they do a great job, and he’s now mad that “someone whom we have never heard of has surfaced demanding that the New York archdiocese publish the names of six miscreant priests, the implication being that there is a cover-up.

Casteix, from our 2008 profile

“This is a non-starter,” Dononhue continues. “The names of the offending priests have already been published by the archdiocese. It is scurrilous to imply otherwise. The only real story here is how far some will go to try to discredit the Catholic Church.”

What the hell is the lace-curtain Irish crying about? He provides no links, no context, no nada in his write-up (which you can go ahead and Google on your own). But the person he was targeting is someone well-known to OC Weekly readers, a heroine we should all emulate.

Say her name, Billy: Joelle Casteix.

She’s the Western regional director for SNAP, and someone who has long advocated for sex-abuse survivors because she herself is one: a music teacher at Mater Dei High abused her, and school and diocesan officials long stonewalled her about it. Casteix held a press conference last week talking about the pedophile protectors at the New York archdiocese, cretins of whom Donohue laughably says, “When it comes to clergy sexual abuse, the New York Archdiocese has one of the best records in the nation.”

Casteix and an attorney for the survivors streamed their press conference on

Facebook Live. None of the New York press present quoted Casteix in their stories, which means Donohue has no life because he watched a Facebook Live segment. But why didn’t Donohue have the stones to call out Casteix by name? Does anyone really buy Billy Blob’s shit that he “had never heard of” Casteix, who’s only been a national presence on the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal for about 15 years? How the hell can Donohue continue to get fatter with every passing year?

So many questions, but at least we have two answers: Casteix is a secular saint; Donohue is a PENDEJO. Hey, Billy: Learn from St. Joseph and get a real job.

Complete Article HERE!