Law had not spoken to the news media since February, but last night, after the bishops finished their debate and celebrated Mass, he granted five-minute, one-on-one interviews to five Boston television affiliates and the city's two daily newspapers. Seated in a hotel suite, he was calm, soft-spoken, and greeted reporters warmly, but he was also clearly pained by his situation, and he willingly described the apology he offered to his fellow bishops at a closed-door session Thursday.
''I said to the bishops that never in my wildest, worst nightmare could I have imagined doing what I was then doing, and I discussed with them some of what the past six months has been like for me personally: the distrust, the anger, the sense of betrayal, the fact that for many, I've become an object of contempt,'' he said. ''I then pointed out that what added to that was the recognition that Boston, and I personally, had placed an added burden upon the bishops, and I apologized to them for that.''
I really don't get the first sentence of his quote: ....never in my wildest, worst nightmare could I have imagined doing what I was then doing...." To what does that refer? His priest-shuffling? Having to apologize for these dreadful decisions? The whole mess? It seems to me, no matter to what he's referring, to be a rather lame, awkward attempt at self-justification.
However, to be fair, I should refer you to blogger Bill Cork's reflection on Cardinal Law:
On a personal note, the hardest part of these past few months has been watching the vilification of Cardinal Law. I first met him ten years ago, when I was considering leaving the Lutheran ministry to become Catholic. He invited me to the Cardinal's Residence, and I found him to be a humble pastor -- not the megalomaniac the press and his critics make him out to be. He has been that humble pastor to me over the past ten years, though our communications are not frequent. He is the only bishop who has ever ended a meeting with me by praying for me and my family -- and he has done that each time I've met with him. When my conversion left me unemployed, he helped me look for a new position. He called up people to serve as a reference. He connected me with sources of income. He arranged interviews for me with people who could help the search. My first Easter as a Catholic, I was surprised to receive a card from him. He said, "I wish I could be doing more for you ... enclosed is a gift; consider it an 'Easter egg.'" It was a check for $900. That's the Cardinal Law that it has been my privilege to know. I grieve for him, and I pray for him, in this purgatory he is experiencing.
It all points to the complicated creatures we human beings are. We are neither all good nor all bad. An important side issue of these past months, and one that interests me a great deal, is how the revelation of a serious sin afffects our view of another person. Parishioners rise in indignation that their "good pastor" of many years might be removed because twenty years ago he abused a minor. How can one act invalidate decades of ministry? Well, it doesn't. The ministry was still there. Its impact remains. But so too, does the impact of the abuse. Most news stories that include interviews with people who know criminals, particularly youthful ones, I might add, usually include one fretful relative or concerned teacher announcing, "You know, he really is a good kid. He just made a mistake." The implication in those words is the same as we hear in the indignant parishioners'.
So the question remains - how do we evaluate sin - serious sin - as it exists within a complicated life that also includes good deeds and intentions?
This doesn't seem to me to be a difficult question, for it is quite simply, the question all of us face ourselves, because all of us confront the reality of ourselves: creatures who seek to do good, but find ourselves, more often than we would like, doing evil. Does it mean that we must then condemn ourselves as "bad?" No. I'm all for dispensing with the need to describe ourselves or anyone else as "good" or "bad." It's a useless description, for we are all (most of us, anyway - excluding the sociopaths and others like them) a combination of both, but what is essential for the Christian is that we know we are loved and claimed by Christ. When I read about a person who has committed a serious sin, I feel no need to define them as "bad." They are a human being who did a bad thing.
But that doesn't mean the bad thing they did must be forgotten or kindly reabsorbed into the totality of a mostly decent life, filled with small kindnesses to old ladies. The good things they did affected others. So did the bad thing. In profound and horrendous ways, usually. So justice demands that the bad thing must be compensated for, paid for, in some way. A price must be paid by the perpetrator that somehow matches, in whatever feeble way it can, the price that has been paid by the victims.
And do you know what I say? If a priest sexually abused a minor twenty years ago and has conducted what people consider a good ministry since then, it's time to pay that price. He did something - he damaged a soul, and possibly sent another's life on a trajectory that has been difficult to correct, and infected a life with a shadow that never quite goes away. And he got away with it, enjoyed the adulation and comfort of his parishioners in the years since, and did just fine. Perhaps he helped others during that time. Great. But there's nothing wrong with that time coming to an end and justice finally being served. It doesn't mean that any good he's done is invalidated. It doesn't mean that he's still not loved by God. It doesn't mean it's excommunicated. It means that just like the rest of us, he will have to let the consequences of his sin touch his life in a real way, so that he can, in some feeble sense, experience the damage he brought to another's life.
Sure, his life will change. Drastically. He will feel humiliated. He will feel a bit lost. He will have his moorings shaken and perhaps his sense of self shattered.
And the victims respond: Now you know.