note: entire contents copyright 2004 by Beverly Creasey
Richard Cardinal Cushing must be flipping in his grave given what has happened to his beloved church. Just two short years ago the nightly news overflowed with reports of more victims of priest abuse coming forward. It seemed like new revelations came with every broadcast. The national news camped practically at our doorsteps in Brighton, waiting to speak with Cardinal Law. (We had already tangled with His Eminence over 16 acres of woods designated by the city as an urban wild. He somehow got the land use department at City Hall to waive the designation and the trees came down. Multi-million dollar houses went up to pay, no doubt, for the lawsuits against the archdiocese. Gone are the pheasants on Pheasant Hill. Gone is most of the wildlife. Gone our peaceful neighborhood and gone our “good faith” belief in the church.)
It seemed back then an eternity before the Cardinal was forced to resign, before he issued an apology. He himself fanned the flames of outrage by allowing his attorneys to accuse the victims of negligence and by denying any responsibility in his interviews with the press. Curiously the matter never became a criminal case (WHY NOT?) It was Catholic groups like “Voice of the Faithful” who kept up the pressure and supported civil suits which shed a bright light on the abuse.
Chicago’s Balliwick Repertory has brought Michael Murphy’s moving docu-drama, based on the transcripts of those civil suits, home, as it were, to Boston, where it all began. The Bailiwick company captures the urgency, the sadness and the outrage you will remember you felt just from hearing a few minutes of testimony on TV. SIN: A CARDINAL DEPOSED mixes testimony from victims (culled from Boston Globe articles and from David France’s book, “OUR FATHERS: The Secret Life of the Catholic Church in an Age of Scandal”) with actual transcript testimony.
Bailiwick estimates the victims number over ten thousand. What comes through in the play is the unfathomable grace and civility and eloquence of the victims…and the unimaginable arrogance it took to ignore their pleas. Years and years of letters, calls and direct confrontation with His Eminence were dismissed as “unreliable evidence.” One Father who believed his parishioners’ allegations was “reassigned” to minimize his impact on the growing unrest. Other evidence, Law says, over and over in the transcripts, he “can’t recall.” He cites “no institutional memory” or “no recollection” even when handed documents which trace his involvement back to the ‘60s.
Instead the Cardinal intones the Almighty when the questioning gets tough. “Please God,” he pleads with attorney Garabedian. “We need to get beyond these cases.” Or “By the Grace of God” we need to heal, as if the injury were to him and not to ten thousand children. He repeats the phrase “Before God” to somehow absolve him of personal responsibility, as in “I did my best Before God.” But it only demonstrates over and over that the Cardinal named Law thought he was above it.
The play covers the Goeghan rape cases in Act I and Shanley’s in Act II, although Law’s fierce refusals to resign are omitted. The play ends by telling us one of the victims is dead… and then the actor portraying the Cardinal (Jim Sherman) reads his resignation.
Theater, here, does what it is supposed to do: It enlightens. It edifies. It’s a call to action. Bailiwick is planning a special benefit performance on June 14 to aid the victims of priest abuse. The Regent Theater is in Arlington Center, just over the Cambridge line. For Tickets call 781-646-4849.