Mourning for pope brings Law into public eye
By Charles M. Sennott - Boston Globe
April 7, 2005
ROME -- Adorned with miter and crimson vestments, Cardinal Bernard
F. Law led a special Mass and prayer vigil for Pope John Paul II
at St. Mary Major basilica for his congregation of Italian churchgoers
and a handful of American tourists and pilgrims from other countries.
The service Tuesday offered a glimpse of Law's pastoral role as
the head of one of Rome's three grand basilicas -- and the distance
Law has traveled from the harsh spotlight of the priest sex abuse
scandal that prompted his resignation as head of the Archdiocese
of Boston in December 2002.
Many Boston Catholics say it is difficult to see Law in this leadership
role at the heart of the Catholic Church after what they believe
was Law's failed stewardship of the Boston archdiocese during the
painful disclosures of widespread priest sexual abuse, and his role
in permitting the reassignment of priests who had repeatedly abused
Those feelings have been intensified by the fact that Law, who
has studiously avoided the media since his resignation, has reemerged
in the public eye during the mourning for the pope.
As news of the pope's death was carried live on television around
the world Saturday, Law could be seen in the background on the steps
of St. Peter's Basilica, joining a small group of clergy leading
the saying of the rosary. On Sunday, Law gave a lengthy interview
to ABC News in which he spoke eloquently about the pope's legacy,
but refused to answer any questions about the abuse scandal. And
for the last two days, television cameras have shown Law leaving
a conference of the cardinals who now run the church in the interim
period before they convene April 18 to elect a new pope.
Some members of support groups for the victims of clergy abuse
have asked with indignation why Law should be allowed to be included
among the 117 cardinals who will vote for a new pope, feeling that
his presence diminishes the sanctity of the process.
Suzanne Morse, spokeswoman for Voice of the Faithful, a Newton-based
national reform organization that grew out of the sexual abuse crisis,
said Law's visibility in the days since the pope died had served
as ''a painful reminder that we're still dealing with the aftereffects
of his tenure as archbishop, and we're not out of the woods yet
in terms of healing from the wounds of the last three years."
The organization, she said, is considering ways to protest Law's
participation in the conclave, perhaps by issuing a statement or
asking members to write to the Vatican, she said.
But some Catholic commentators say that to suggest Law should not
vote is to misunderstand the institution of the Vatican. They say
that even though the pope accepted Law's resignation as leader of
the Archdiocese of Boston, he never saw any grounds for Law to lose
his status as a cardinal. All 117 cardinals under the age of 80
have the right to vote for the next pontiff.
The Rev. Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit and professor at the Pontifical
Gregorian University in Rome, said, ''I don't know of a single person
in the Curia or in the wider church circles here who would think
twice about him voting in the conclave. That is not to be dismissive
of the scandals. They were very serious problems which led to his
resignation as they should have. But in the end of the day he is
still a cardinal. I have no problem with him voting.
''The 117 cardinals who are voting are all human beings and they
have flaws as we all do. Holiness can come through suffering, from
being broken or humbled. And that is Cardinal Law's experience,
I would say. So that might even help him approach his decision in
a more spiritual manner."
John Allen, Rome correspondent of the National Catholic Reporter,
said that any attempt to pressure Law not to vote would have little
effect in Rome, because not voting would be seen as ''an abdication
of his responsibility as a cardinal."
''I've never met anybody who defended his handling of the crisis.
Everyone recognizes there were lapses of judgment, but the Curia
and church authorities here contextualize those in a way that Americans
and Bostonians do not. They occurred within [his] decades of service
to the church," added Allen.
Those who know Law say he has adjusted to life in Rome after the
scandal, and has seemed happy in recent months getting back to working
for the church he loves. His longtime friend and aide, Monsignor
Paul B. McInerny of Boston, is joining him to serve as his personal
secretary in Rome, according to the archdiocese newspaper, The Pilot.
Law, 73, hardly ever served as a parish priest and is said to enjoy
taking up the ancient role of the cardinals as ''the clergy of Rome."
Rome has more than 30 cardinals, and they are part of the fabric
of the city. Here, Law is out of the glaring spotlight of the American
media and its culture of accountability. Here, he has been welcomed
back into the fold of the Curia, which never seemed to grasp the
intensity of the sense of betrayal felt by American Catholics over
the scandal and the hierarchy's handling of it.
Despite Law's reappearance in the public eye, the Rev. William
Stetson, the director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington,
D.C., and a close friend of Law since they graduated together from
Harvard in 1950, insists Law is not trying to rehabilitate his image.
''He loved the pope who made him a cardinal. He sought to serve
him loyally and generously. And he wanted to express what was in
his heart to all Americans," said Stetson.
But the anger over the priest sex abuse scandals is apparent among
Bostonians, now in Rome to pay their last respects to the pope,
when they are asked about their former archbishop.
Standing on a crowded side street among the throng of mourners
waiting to view the pope's body, Helen Cronin of Milton was asked
about Law's upcoming vote for a new pope. Cronin answered: ''I hope
and pray the Holy Spirit for once is with him when he decides. The
spirit wasn't with him when he was in Boston."
His Italian parishioners respond differently. After the service,
Law emerged from the sacristy to greet several Italian families
that had come to him for blessings, and they kissed his ring. Asked
afterward what they knew about Law and his past, they said they
knew him only as rector of the basilica and had heard nothing about
the scandal in Boston.
Law talked briefly with a reporter about the powerful emotion of
the last few days and about the pope who consecrated him as a cardinal
in 1985. ''That rich legacy that is his teaching will always be
a gift to us," he said.
Law declined to be interviewed, and said simply, ''We will be here
until 11 p.m. praying for the Holy Father. That is our focus. That
is where we should keep our thoughts right now. Stay, pray with
Law also greeted Ted Woodard, 20, from Norwood, who was traveling
through Italy and turned his vacation into a pilgrimage to pay his
last respects to the pope. Woodard knew Law from serving as a youth
representative on the Boston diocesan parish council when Law was
''I worked with Cardinal Law and have a lot of respect for him,"
The charisma and intellect that once made Law one of the stars
of the church was evident, but he looked older, a bit stooped and
He turned back into the church for the ''adoration" prayers
for the pope, and told one of his aides, ''I am going to pray."
Then Law walked down the center aisle of the church and knelt before
the altar and prayed quietly and alone.
Correspondent Sofia Celeste contributed to this report from
Rome. Kathleen A. Burge of the Globe staff contributed from Boston.