"The Rev. Matthew L. Lamb, a theologian at Boston College, said that dissent fostered by his fellow theologians has contributed to the sexual abuse crisis.

  ''No adequate diagnosis of the contributory causes of the Catholic priest abuse scandals can overlook the role of dissent among theologians,'' Lamb said. ''How many of the priests and bishops who have brought such suffering to minors and scandal to the public were encouraged by teachers and theologians to cut corners and dissent from the truth of Catholic faith and moral teachings? Many priests and future bishops read articles dissenting from Catholic sexual ethics in the 1960s and '70s. A climate of dissent was promoted by wholesale dissent from Catholic sexual ethics.''

   Some local priests believe it is a mistake for lay people to join Voice of the Faithful or for priests to join the Boston Priests Forum, because they believe such groups, from the very fact of their existence, take an adversarial posture toward church leaders. ''I don't think the priests' forum is helpful, and I don't think Voice of the Faithful is helpful, because they have to come out and be against the church on something, or else they're redundant - if they think and feel exactly what the church does, there's no reason for them to exist,'' said the Rev. Joseph Hennessey, pastor of Saint Joseph Church in Kingston. ''My preferred method would be to work these horrible things out within the confines of the existing structures, realizing that they've been extremely faulty, but that those are the structures the Lord has given us.''

   In the past, Law might have cracked down on groups or individuals he viewed as dissenters. He has never gone as far as Bishop Fabian Bruskewitz of Lincoln, Neb., who in 1996 said he would excommunicate anyone in his diocese who joined one of 10 groups, including the progressive group Call to Action.

But the Archdiocese of Boston has banned several groups from meeting on church property, including organizations advocating for the ordination of women, for gay rights, and for other progressive causes.

   The most frequent past punishment for local priests who have spoken publicly on controversial issues has been that they are summoned for a talking-to by the cardinal. But occasionally the punishments can be harsher. Just within the last two years Law has supported the firing and eviction of a nun who helped baptize the adopted infant sons of two gay male couples - except in

emergencies only priests or deacons can baptize children. And Law's administration last year ousted two priests from a Dorchester parish, apparently because some of the parishioners found their homilies too progressive.

   Scholars are also under scrutiny. The Vatican has barred a theologian, the Rev. Roger Haight of Weston Jesuit School of Theology, from teaching while the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith investigates Haight's published writings about the possibility that non-Christians can get to heaven without the help of Jesus. And Catholic theologians at Boston College and other    Catholic schools are now supposed to sign statements of loyalty to church teachings - a new, national requirement imposed by US bishops at the insistence of the Vatican that, according to some academic theologians, is being widely ignored.

But this year's situation is unusual in several ways. The new groups discussing the future of the church - the Boston Priests Forum, the Voice of the Faithful, Boston College, and Regis College - have thus far studiously avoided taking positions on any issues, so they have not contradicted any church teachings."


Michael Paulson

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 9/16/2002.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.




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