The Boston archdiocese was pretty much the epicenter of the pedophile priest scandal, and it cost the Catholic Church dearly. It was the Boston Globe that first brought the story fully into the light, with repeated tales of priests abusing young parishioner boys, and of Church higher-ups buying off their families and promising the "wayward priests" would be taken care of -- most often by transferring them to a new, unsuspecting parish, with glowing letters of recommendations in their pockets.
So far, the church has admitted to paying out over $40 million in settlement claims (almost always with a confidentiality clause, thus earning the title in my book of "hush money"), and observers speculate outstanding claims could run the total into nine figures. At least four priests have ended up in prison. Former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law barely escaped indictment on technicalities (he couldn't be proven to have KNOWN the priests would molest again, and the statute of limitations had expired), left in disgrace and was kicked upstairs to Rome.
To settle these claims, the Archdiocese of Boston had to raise money, fast. For understandable reasons, appeals to the faithful were less than stellar successes. That's when they decided to have a real estate fire sale. They sold off a lot of parish properties, including closing and selling off churches. And at the peak of the scandal, over 60% of diocese leaders in the United States had actively covered for sex abusers.
But for some, their roles in the scandal could be considered good career moves. Bernard Law, now safely ensconced in the Vatican, played a major role in the mourning of Pope John Paul II. And Law's former right-hand man, John McCormack, who personally handled most of these matters, also escaped prosecution and was promoted to the Bishopric of New Hampshire.
But back to my point... the laity did NOT take the closings of churches well. Some occupied the churches, refusing to leave the building unless the new Archbishop of Boston, Sean O'Malley, relented. Some are suing the archdiocese, trying to convince the courts that they, not the Church, own the lands. When Bishop McCormack was scheduled to celebrate the Mass at the Baccalaureate at St. Anselm College (a Catholic college here in Manchester), over 50 students signed a petition asking him to not attend -- and some even boycotted their own ceremony in protest.
But now we get to the latest news. Last year, as part of cost-cutting measures, the Archdiocese announced that it was closing the Our Lady of Presentation School in Brighton and was going to use the building for tribunals on marriage annulments and priestly sex abuse. An effort by parents (and an extremely generous offer by Secretary of State and devout Catholic Bill Galvin to extend a line of credit to the Church to keep the school open. The church agreed to a one-year extension: the school would close on June 10, 2005.
During the last year, the parents collected money and pledges, and put forward a plan: they would buy the school from the church for $2 million dollars and keep it open, adding evening adult-education classes.
The archdiocese looked at the offer, and made up their minds: the school would not close on June 10 after all.
Instead, on the evening of June 8, without any warning, they closed it and locked the doors. (They said they had heard rumors of a planned occupation, like in the case of some churches, but offered no proof of the allegation.) The hundred or so students found themselves locked out, with no graduation ceremony as planned, no last day to say their goodbyes to staffers, teachers, and friends, nothing. One teacher even said she had bought a cake for her students and left it in a fridge in the school, but church officials wouldn't let her retrieve it.
The high-handedness of the church has outraged many, both inside and outside the faith. Both the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald gave extensive coverage to the school's closing. (I defy anyone of any faith, or none, to see the picture of the two former students in the Globe and not feel moved.) Boston's Mayor Menino, of whom I am no fan, immediately offered the use of historic Faneuil Hall for the canceled graduation ceremonies. Local talk shows have been bombarded with calls from infuriated Catholics, who vow to drastically curtail their financial support for the Church. One woman said her sister-in-law now gives her offering money directly to the local utilities, to be sure her money goes to support her local church and doesn't fall under the control of the Archdiocese. They still have their faith in God, but not in all of His shepherds.
As I've said before, I'm no Catholic, and I have no great fondness for the Church. But I think that anyone who does not see these actions as nothing more but arrogance and a desire to reassert the power it once held.
But those days are long, long past. The flock are sheep no longer. And if the shepherds don't recognize that, the next list of 95 theses will be e-mailed around the world.