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Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church
By The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe
Little Brown & Co.
274 pgs.
ISBN: 0-3160-7558-2

Profile of a scandal

By Steven Martinovich
web posted July 15, 2002

Betrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic ChurchBetrayal: The Crisis in the Catholic Church is based on a series of reports in The Boston Globe on the sex abuse scandal that has hammered the Catholic Church during this and recent years. It is a scandal that has seen dozens priests charged with sex abuse, mostly involving young boys, dating sometimes far back as several decades. Betrayal shows its newspaper pedigree by rarely getting into the deeper questions of the scandal. It eschews that in favor of a somber tourist trip through events that some have predicted will bring major changes -- organizationally and perhaps even doctrinally -- to an institution that has survived over two millennia and remains the world's strongest proponent of traditional values.

Despite that, Betrayal does serve as a worthwhile introduction to a scandal that has many American Catholics reevaluating their devotion to the Church. Personified by figures such as disgraced former priest Jack Geoghan and Boston Cardinal Bernard Francis Law, the scandal has led to an unprecedented attack on the Church and its priests and once again raised issues that have dogged the Catholic Church for centuries.

Given that Boston has served as the epicenter for the scandal, it's not surprising that Betrayal concentrates much of its focus on the traditionally Catholic city. During the late 1800s and early 1900s, the Church was all-powerful, helping Catholic immigrants establish themselves in their new country and providing a social network for its members. Although the Church's power began to wane in the 1950s and 60s, thanks to a new permissive culture that continues to make its presence felt, the Catholic Church remains an integral part of many Bostonian's lives. Even in these secular days, Boston's residents continue to have a close relationship with their Church. It's not surprising then, that the strongest reaction to the burgeoning scandal has been from that city.

The picture the Globe paints in Betrayal is one that isn't likely to build confidence in the Church. For decades priests that had been accused of sexual abuse of children had been shuttled around from parish to parish with little advance warning to the parishioners whose children were at risk. With the help of deferential politicians, law enforcement and parishioners, not to mention fellow priests who said little, these priests were shielded by a Church afraid to admit the extent of the problem and interested in protecting its reputation. Out of proportion to their actual numbers, these priests gone wrong have wrought incredible damage to the Church.

As the Globe's investigative team aptly illustrates, by refusing to deal with several issues decades ago, the Church has unwittingly opened a Pandora's box of problems. Activists who have been pressing for years to allow female and homosexual priests have been strengthened as the Church has reeled from each new allegation. The very moral standing of the Church is now in question among many.

Despite that, some good could come out of the sex abuse scandals. Betrayal spotlights a new generation of lay people who are eager to turn the Church into a more open institution, in stark contrast to the rigidly hierarchical organization that has come into being. Although it's still early to tell what long-term damage the scandals will do to the Church, increased participation by the laity could help revitalize it in this new century.

Along with its skimming of the issues, Betrayal does an adequate job of sketching many of the people behind the names that have burst into the headlines, including Geoghan and Law. Although some of the agendas of the Globe reporters can be discerned at some points, including some thinly veiled arguments in favor of eliminating celibacy as a requirement for priesthood, Betrayal is in general a good review of the scandal that has shaken the Church in America.

Steven Martinovich is a freelancer writer in Sudbury, Ontario.

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