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Cardinal Law's 'Hair Shirt Moment'

Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's acknowledgment of his role in the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal was welcomed Sunday by Oklahoma Gov. Frank Keating, who said it was overdue.

"This was Cardinal Law's appropriate hair shirt moment," said Keating, the chairman of an all-lay review board monitoring the church's new policies against sexual abuse, referring to the ancient religious practice of wearing uncomfortable hair shirts to atone for sins. "Victims have told me repeatedly that what most offended them was the cardinal appeared most interested in saving his reputation than profoundly and sorrowfully apologizing for what he did."

Law made his remarks Sunday at Mass in Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

"I acknowledge my own responsibility for decisions which led to intense suffering," said Law, addressing those gathered for Mass.

Law said he never meant to assign priests to positions where they could endanger children, but "the fact of the matter remains that I did assign priests who had committed sexual abuse."

The official leader of Boston's Roman Catholics said he has a "far deeper awareness of this terrible evil" of clergy sexual abuse than he did ten months ago, when the scandal first broke.

Victims of abuse, with whom Law recently met, had urged him to speak out more publicly and frequently. He agreed, saying at Mass at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross that he was trying to "honor the spirit" of that meeting.

"As I have listened personally to the stories of men and women who have endured such abuse, I have learned that some of these consequences include lifelong struggles with alcohol and drug abuse, depression, difficulty in maintaining relationships and, sadly, suicide," he said.

Law has been in seclusion since the scandal broke. He met last week with a group of alleged sexual abuse victims of the late Rev. Joseph Birmingham and said Sunday victims had asked him to speak more publicly about the abuse.

That meeting came shortly after archdiocese officials met with leaders of Catholic reform group Voice of the Faithful, whom Law has largely shunned. The group later said Law will meet privately with them in the future.

Keating, who was appointed by U.S. bishops this summer to lead the abuse policy review committee, has been critical of Law but has stopped short of calling for his resignation.

"I think his survival is solely the decision of the pope," Keating said. "I am pleased to see abject, heartfelt, sorrowful apologies. It's long overdue."

The governor said he has met with leaders of Boston's archdiocese and is impressed by how hard they are trying to repair damage from the scandal. Keating also had a few respectful words for Law.

"His role in the Civil Rights movement, his pastoral care, his extraordinary commitment to the life of his faith is impressive and wonderful," Keating said. "This is just stunning to people who know him, that he could be a part of this."

Keating said he is scheduled to meet with U.S. church officials Nov. 11 to review a response to the scandal from the Vatican.

Speaking to parishoners in Boston Sunday, Cardinal Law talked about the lasting damage of sexual abuse, and compared that to several positive experiences in his own life, marked by the influence of priests in whom he placed a deep trust.

"One of the insidious consequences of the sexual abuse of a child by a priest is the rupturing of that sacred trust," said Law. "For some victim-survivors, not only is it difficult to trust priests again, but the Church herself is mistrusted."

Victims' advocates said the statement and acknowledgment were long overdue and praised him for making them, but still expressed skepticism.

"I would say I am cautiously optimistic about his change of heart, but thus far, his actions have not seemed consistent," said Bill Gately, co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests New England chapter.

"If he was that concerned with helping and protecting the victims, he would have cooperated more," Gately said, referring to the archdiocese' reluctance to release documents to victims' attorneys relating to accused priests.

Mike Emerton, spokesman for Voice of the Faithful, said he still holds Law accountable for his actions over the past two decades when he moved accused priests from parish to parish.

"In light of his statement, we must ask ourselves - why did it take him two decades and ten months to come clean in his role in the cover-up?" he said.

Emerton also said the Voice of the Faithful is calling on all American bishops to follow Law's example of meeting with victims and addressing their possible role in the scandal.

Some alleged victims said they had waited a long time for an acknowledgement from Law and said he seemed sincere.

"I saw hope and I believe that restores a sense of innocence to me that I lost as a child," Olan Horne, an alleged Birmingham victim, told WCVB-TV.

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