Today’s Boston Herald reports that priests were promoted during the 1980s, even as the Scandal started to unfold, without anyone checking their personnel records. Priests like Shanley, who were sent on to pastorships, did not have anyone go into the myriad and badly kept files to see if there was anything there that might indicate he would not be suitable to lead a parish.
Rather then look for signs of trouble, Higgins said, priests and bishops in charge of promoting colleagues to positions as pastors—where they would run their own parishes—were more concerned about leadership skills.
Decisions came “from reputation, from looking at his pastoral record, from the pastoral visitation to the individual parish where we listen to the lay people and their needs,” Higgins said. “And that would cultivate if the particular individual had the qualities that they were looking for, for that particular parish.”
I’ll go even further than that. I know for a fact that the cardinal didn’t even pay attention to his personnel director or the personnel board when making assignment decisions. He often made them by fiat, without seeking any advice or taking into account the priest’s background. Was it arrogance or was it naivete? Last year, a priest who had been suspended for misconduct told the Boston Globe in an interview that during his suspension he met with Cardinal Law. They got to discussing music and how the priest was now playing organ for Mass at a local parish, but that no one there knew he was a priest. So the cardinal abruptly says, “I’m going to assign you as a priest to that parish.” The priest objects, asking, “What about my situation?” And the cardinal replies, “I trust you.”
The article says Cardinal Law had access to the files containing all the damaging allegations at any time, but what it doesn’t say is that the clergy personnel director did not. In fact, some of them didn’t even know that some of those files existed. In other words, while Cardinal Law says he relied on his subordinates to make decisions, that reliance didn’t extend down very far. Only a very small circle of priests and bishops had that kind of influence and even then the cardinal sometimes made the worst decisions himself, not out of malice surely, but demonstrably out of negligence.