The Paper and the Cardinal

Even in the early years of his tenure, the Globe was critical of Law’s political gamesmanship:

He wants it all, secular and religious power. He acts both roles—the pragmatist educated at public schools and at Harvard, and the Vatican sergeant who learned to obey orders as the son of an Air Force colonel. He mingles with the pooh-bahs of American culture, then proclaims that the church must be countercultural. A pragmatist after President Bush's heart in secular affairs, and a hard-liner in the mold of John Paul II in Catholic doctrine, Law has the ear of both leaders—at least until they compare notes.[1]

In 1989, Law condemned as “slanderous” a charge by the Globe that he had struck a deal with President Bush.[2] According to the Globe, Law had agreed to stay silent on Bush’s inaction on the murder of six Jesuits and two women in El Salvador. In exchange, Bush would move on issues of importance to conservative Catholics, like abortion, school prayer, and government support for church day care programs. The 1992 Father Porter case only exacerbated the hostility between the newspaper and the cardinal.

Porter and Law. Cardinal Law had taken over in Boston long after Porter retired, but the scandal erupted on his watch. After the case became public, Law said Porter’s crime was “an aberrant act.”[3] Critics claimed that Law had too much sympathy for Porter, citing this statement by the cardinal: “We would be less than the community of faith and love which we are called to be… were we not to attempt to respond both to victim and betrayer in truth, in love, and reconciliation.”[4]

Cardinal Law refused to answer the Globe’s questions about Porter and in response to its aggressive coverage, said, “By all means we call down God’s power on the media, particularly the Globe.”[5] Law knew his audience; many blue-collar Catholics already viewed the Globe as an elitist, Brahmin, anti-Catholic institution. Law was pushing two hot buttons: religion and class. “Boston is only the most class-conscious city in America,” notes then-Metro Editor Bradlee.[6] It was a source of wry amusement inside the Globe that, a week after Law had called down “God’s power” on the paper, Jack Driscoll, the Globe’s editor who happened to be Irish-Catholic, fell and broke his leg.

But not everyone at the Globe was amused by the charges of anti-Catholic bias. It seemed that the Archdiocese’s frequent complaints about the Globe’s coverage had found a receptive audience among top executives at the paper. Carroll, a reporter on the Spotlight Team, says there wasn’t at the time “the appetite” to look further into sexual abuse in the church. “I think there was a feeling in the upper offices after Porter that we’d kind of been too harsh on the church,” says Carroll.[7]

Law eventually unveiled a new policy for dealing with abusive priests. Under the new guidelines, the archdiocese would pay for counseling for victims and establish a review board of both clergy and lay members to look into allegations of abuse. But Law reserved the right to reassign abusive priests who had received treatment, and he preserved for the archdiocese the primary responsibility of handling charges of abuse. Neither the law nor church policy required priests to report charges of sexual abuse to civil authorities.

The Globe was not impressed. An editorial said, “With its publication of a pastoral policy on sexual misconduct with minors, the Archdiocese of Boston has lost an important opportunity to communicate to parishioners and the public that it understands the depth of the problem.”[8]



[1] Golden, “The Cardinal’s Ambitions,” Boston Globe.

[2] Gill Donovan, “Ambition, Defense of Institutional Church Drove Cardinal's Career; Church In Crisis,” National Catholic Reporter, December 27, 2002.

[3] The Investigative Staff of the Boston Globe, Betrayal, p.7.

[4] Kay Longcope, “Sexual Abuse by Priests is a 'Betrayal,' 'Rare,' Law Says,” Boston Globe, May 14, 1992.

[5] Steve Marantz, “Law Raps Ex-Priest Coverage,” Boston Globe, May 24, 1992.

[6] Author’s telephone interview with Ben Bradlee, Jr. on July 10, 2008. All further quotes from Bradlee, Jr., unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.

[7] Author’s interview with Matt Carroll in Boston, MA, on April 4, 2008. All further quotes from Carroll, unless otherwise attributed, are from this interview.

[8] The Editors, “Pastoral Miscue on Child Abuse,” Boston Globe, January 16, 1993.