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Church Disunity in the Priest Scandal
April 9, 2003

The virulent scandal of rogue priests who sexually abused children has taken another extraordinary turn with the decision by the Diocese of San Bernardino, Calif., to sue the Archdiocese of Boston for palming off a notoriously depraved cleric as a shepherd in good standing. Such an intramural fracture's winding up in the secular courts would have been unimaginable until now in America's Roman Catholic Church. Church solidarity is the latest victim in the sorry scandal.

Officials in San Bernardino, a relatively poor diocese, say they would have to close schools and cut services for the needy if they had to pay damages in a local suit against the Rev. Paul Shanley, a priest-abuser who found sanctuary in California when he arrived with a recommendation letter from Boston. Boston church officials deny they knew he was a problem. But this is questionable; he was already a brazen advocate of sex between men and boys.

The San Bernardino suit is welcome, directed as it is at the still elusive church virtue of accountability. Some church officials continue to play a helter-skelter game with secular law. They have darted from denying state authority over the problem to inventing groundless constitutional arguments.

Cardinal Roger Mahony is fighting in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles to withhold records from criminal prosecutors investigating dozens of priests. Last year, Cardinal Mahony vowed his records would be an open book. But now he is claiming a First Amendment protection for any free expression between a bishop and priest conferring "candidly." Where is the candor for the church's anguished parishioners? This claim was tried and dismissed as bogus in Boston. Resorting to it in another of the nation's flagship dioceses is a shameful measure of the damage still being inflicted on the faithful from above.

Copyright 2003 The New York Times Company

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests