Religion: Year in Review


Issue: "Year in Review 2002," Dec. 28, 2002

Broken Law

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.

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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.


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