Cardinal Bernard Law's resignation as archbishop of Boston in a meeting with the pope on Dec. 13 capped a year of hand-wringing, withering revelations, and lawsuits over sexual scandal in the U.S. Catholic Church, America's largest denomination. At issue: allegations of abuse of mostly adolescent boys by hundreds of priests across the country, including several bishops. And now subpoenaed personnel records and court testimony are showing a pattern of negligence and coverup of the problems going back for decades, often with callousness toward the victims, by the bishops and administrators who were in charge.
The year brought the church its gravest hour ever. Although fewer than 1 percent of the church's 46,000 priests have resigned or been forced out this year because of the allegations (many dating from decades ago), many others were demoralized. Thousands of parishioners have stopped attending services; others are withholding contributions. Lawsuits have cost various dioceses tens of millions of dollars in settlements, and the end is nowhere in sight.
Catholics nationwide called for greater accountability. The nation's bishops, who possess absolute authority in their dioceses, responded with new policies to offer help to victims and to deal openly and severely with offenders.
It was in Boston a year ago that the scandal, involving some local priests, splashed onto the front pages of the Boston Globe. Cardinal Law, 71, the most prominent U.S. cleric, tried to resign in April, but the pope sent him back home to resolve the mess. Then court papers showed much of the blame lay on his desk: He kept abusers on the job, sometimes quietly transferring them to other parishes. Various victims' and reform groups clamored for his scalp, as did scores of his priests-an unheard-of precedent.
When he resigned, Cardinal Law apologized, begged for forgiveness, and expressed hope his stepping aside would bring "healing, reconciliation, and unity" to the archdiocese. Some of the faithful praised his move and wished him well, but several victims said it was "too little, too late." Vowed one lawyer: "This is only the beginning."
Extremism in defense of tyranny
From Indonesia and the Philippines to Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Turkey, and Lebanon, the year saw Muslim militants attacking Christians and churches. In the Philippines, Abu-Sayyaf kept up its murderous campaign to establish an independent Muslim state. In Lebanon, an unknown assailant on Nov. 21 shot to death American missionary Bonnie Witherall, 31, a volunteer at a church-run prenatal clinic serving the local population. In northern Nigeria, someone bombed a church in Jos on the anniversary of 9/11. In the United States, Christian leaders Franklin Graham, Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson criticized the seeming Muslim bent for hatred and violence, sparking an international furor.
Lions and liberals
Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey, a mild-mannered evangelical and titular leader of the world's 70 million Anglicans (including 2.3 million U.S. Episcopalians), entered the year like a lamb, quietly seeking to shore up unity in his troubled communion. But as he prepared to retire in October, he was acting and sounding more like a lion.
Over his objections, bishops in Kansas and British Columbia had unilaterally approved liturgical blessings of same-sex unions, dividing many bishops and churches not only in North America but also elsewhere. He scolded them and warned of schism. Bishops in the booming churches of the global south, where most Anglicans live, are overwhelmingly orthodox biblically. They are opposed to the sexuality trends taking hold in the West, a further sign, they contend, that Western churches have strayed from Scripture.
The new Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, an erudite theological liberal, took office on Dec. 1. He has admitted to ordaining an open homosexual but says he won't do it again to keep faith with the majority position of the bishops worldwide. He'll have his hands full. The main conservative groups in the Church of England already have called on him to bow out.
Abstinence, the only way
As noted by WORLD earlier this year, a movement that emphasizes abstinence as the only safe alternative to promiscuity is taking hold in public middle and high schools across America. It is fueled in part by federal grants earmarked for abstinence-only education. Newsweek in a recent cover story found that Christians are at the core of the movement, whose members pledge to reserve sex for marriage, but it encompasses students from a wide variety of backgrounds.
A boost came this summer when Erika Harold was crowned Miss America 2003. Known for her campaigns promoting teen sexual abstinence, the University of Illinois graduate made news when she pledged to include the emphasis in her upcoming appearances. She is a member of an Assemblies of God church in Urbana.
Forcing public-school children to recite the Pledge of Allegiance is unconstitutional because it contains the phrase "under God," thereby violating the Establishment clause. This 2 to 1 ruling by a panel of the liberal-tilted 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco sparked a national uproar. The decision in effect overturned the 1954 act of Congress that inserted the two words in the pledge. Under intense pressure from the Justice Department and Congress, the lead judge stayed the order until the full court decides whether to rehear the case.
The panel more recently ruled that the plaintiff, atheist Michael Newdow, 49, retains his parental right to sue even though he doesn't have custody of the 8-year-old daughter in whose name he sued (and even though the girl and her mother attend an evangelical church and "love" saying the pledge).
No matter how the 9th Circuit decides the case, this one is almost certainly headed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Static in Christian broadcasting
Controversy this year split the ranks of the National Religious Broadcasters, whose 1,500 members include some of the most prominent and influential evangelical voices in the country. New president Wayne Pederson, 54, was ousted just before he was to be formally installed at the NRB annual meeting in Nashville in February. Weeks earlier, he had told a newspaper interviewer he hoped the NRB in the future would change its image: "We get associated with the far Christian right and marginalized."
Broadcaster James Dobson and others who address social and cultural issues in their broadcasts took offense and launched a campaign to dump him. Coming to Mr. Pederson's defense were members from two other main camps in the NRB: the traditionalists who stick to gospel preaching and such, and a younger, growing band of broadcasters emphasizing music, seeker friendliness, and fresh ways to penetrate the culture. A straw vote by the full NRB executive board on a bid to keep him failed 36-47 amid heated debate. The vote nevertheless was a fairly strong message to the NRB's public-policy broadcasters and their supporters.
Mr. Dobson was disturbed. In his keynote speech, he issued a warning to several thousand listeners: In the face of worsening social ills, from homosexual propaganda in the public schools to partial-birth abortions, confrontation is a must.
The International Bible Society, its related Committee for Bible Translation, and Zondervan Publishing House scrapped past promises and with only days' notice in January released the New Testament portion of Today's New International Version (TNIV) Bible, which featured gender-neutral language. The entities had pledged in a 1997 meeting with some Bible scholars and leaders of various evangelical organizations to observe certain guidelines that ensured proper translation of Greek masculine pronouns in most cases, among other things.
Controversy greeted the release. Some theologians and Greek scholars pointed to certain deliberate mistranslations that could change the meaning of a passage. Some groups and leaders boycotted the new version; others embraced it. Cautioned Ken Hemphill, president of Southwestern Baptist Seminary: "Our mission is not to make the Bible relevant to culture but to bring culture under the rubric of Scripture."
Clintonizing church discipline
The 2.4-million-member Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) lurched toward a constitutional crisis in 2002. A clause in the PCUSA's Book of Order, the church's constitution, requires a standard of "fidelity in marriage" or "chastity in singleness" of ordained clergy and lay officers.
Gay-agenda forces have attacked the fidelity-chastity standard repeatedly, but it was confirmed by churchwide referendum three times, the latest by a 3 to 1 margin. This year at least 20 churches were in open defiance of the standard.
Lawyers on the board of the pro-homosexual Covenant Network of PCUSA churches counseled members to avoid open defiance of the constitution. Instead, they suggested a Clinton-like solution: Go ahead and ordain, redefine chastity to mean having sex in a pure and holy way, and understand that if an ordination candidate doesn't believe homosexual sex is sin, there is no need to self-acknowledge it, and there is no reason for repentance.