Metro

KEVIN CULLEN

The bane of Mansion Murphy

The only way you got Breslin out of New York was at gunpoint or with a good story.

Jimmy Breslin, who died Sunday, was the best newspaper columnist in the world and he was the first one to tell you that. But he would also tell you he had good material, and it was almost always in New York.

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“When you leave New York,” he used to say, “you ain’t going anywhere.”

And this: “True New Yorkers do not really seek information about the outside world. They feel that if anything is not in New York it is not likely to be interesting.”

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But he did go to Washington when they were burying Jack Kennedy, and wrote his most famous column about the guy who dug JFK’s grave. He went to Los Angeles and was standing a few feet away from Bobby Kennedy at the Ambassador Hotel when RFK was assassinated.

And he went to Vietnam because there was a war on and people were killing each other, and there is nothing more interesting and disturbing than people killing each other. He went to Northern Ireland for the same reason.

He came to Boston. Rarely. It’s not that Breslin disliked Boston. Like most New Yorkers, he just didn’t think about it that often.

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“It’s small, Boston,” he told me one day, when he and his wife, Ronnie, were living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. “It’s about as big as Ozone Park.”

That’s not true, but trying to correct Breslin about anything was like trying to turn a battleship around in the middle of the Panama Canal.

In 1975, Breslin came here in the middle of the crisis over the desegregation of Boston’s public schools and the Globe printed his columns. He wrote one from Charlestown, where he said “the people are poorer, tougher and bristle more against busing than those living in the much publicized South Boston.”

He would never defend the bigots — he quoted them in all their N-word glory — but he had sympathy for working-class whites and blacks in the city who had their lives turned upside down while everybody in the lily-white suburbs sat back and wagged their fingers in judgment. He took shots across the river at Harvard.

“The record shows,” he wrote, “that the people of Harvard will do anything in the world for a place like Roxbury High except send their own children to school there.”

Breslin spent some time in Boston researching his 2004 book about the coverup of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, “The Church That Forgot Jesus.”

He wanted to figure out Cardinal Law, why Law would enable so many priests to abuse kids.

“What’s this Law like?” he asked.

I told him that when Law was a young priest in Mississippi, he told others that he was going to be the first American pope.

“That’s not so bad,” Breslin replied.

I told him Law insisted that his staff refer to him as Your Eminence.

“That’s it,” Breslin chirped. “That’s what I needed to know.”

In Breslin’s world, being ambitious was admirable; being pompous was a venal sin.

Breslin zeroed in on one of Law’s assistants, Bishop William Murphy, who had protected abusive priests in Boston. Murphy was rewarded for his loyalty, made bishop of Rockville Centre, on Long Island.

Breslin found out Murphy had kicked some nuns out of their convent so he could turn it into a palace for himself. Breslin nicknamed him Mansion Murphy and made his life miserable, though not as miserable as the lives that Murphy helped ruin by protecting criminals in Roman collars.

Breslin loved good priests and nuns. He just thought there weren’t enough of them, and that it was the big shots running the church who were to blame.

When they gather Wednesday at Church of the Blessed Sacrament on West 71st Street, a great priest named Monsignor Tom Leonard will be at the altar, releasing Jimmy Breslin for the
ages.

Kevin Cullen is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at cullen@globe.com.
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