Death of disgraced Cardinal Bernard Law reveals a truth we’d rather ignore about the Catholic Church
By Melinda Henneberger, The Kansas City Star
Twelve years ago, after the death of Pope John Paul II, I watched a man who will go down in history as a fierce protector of child rapists process into St. Peter’s to celebrate one of the nine masses that traditionally follow the death of a pontiff.
On that day, Cardinal Bernard Law, who died this week at 86, had already resigned in disgrace from his post as archbishop of Boston. He’d lost his stroke with the White House, too, after the Boston Globe revealed the full extent of the clerical sex abuse scandal that Law’s cover-up had both delayed and compounded.
In exile in Rome, Law was a pariah but also a man who retained some vestiges of power, especially on the key committee that helps choose bishops; if Catholics didn’t invent having it both ways, we certainly have long experience in it.
On the day in 2005 that Law eulogized his own protector, John Paul, I wrote that he should have stayed home instead of showing up as he did, surrounded by a security detail that treated the two American survivors of clerical abuse who’d come to peacefully protest outside the basilica as if they were the criminals.
Initially, I felt that Law’s Thursday funeral mass should not have been celebrated in St. Peter’s, either, by yet another predator coddler, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. And what did Pope Francis think he was doing, offering the closing prayer?
But perhaps I was wrong to write of Law’s memorial mass for John Paul that “the whole spectacle of the disgraced cardinal slinging incense was almost too baroque to bear.”
Because painful as it was to watch, the sight of the bloated, visibly broken Law made remembering the worst of John Paul’s legacy inescapable.
At the height of the 2002 American clerical sex abuse scandal, when I was covering the Vatican for the New York Times, a friend of John Paul’s described him to me as an old man with the innocence of a child — someone who literally found it difficult to believe the accusations.
But the refusal to acknowledge evil is not a virtue, as the former Karol Wojtyla, whose conscience was formed against the backdrop of the Nazis and then the Soviets, knew better than anyone.