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Boston Cardinal a No-Show at Church Amid Public Rage

By Greg Frost - December 8, 2002

BOSTON (Reuters) - Cardinal Bernard Law canceled an appearance at Sunday Mass as rank-and-file Roman Catholic priests urged him to resign amid rising public anger over his handling of clergy sexual abuse.

Law abruptly pulled out of the 11 a.m. EST service at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where hundreds of protesters denounced the senior U.S. prelate and urged state authorities to bring criminal charges against him.

Waving signs that read "Cardinal Law Must Go -- A Disgrace to Good Catholics" and "Reassign Law," the demonstrators vented their anger at the cardinal. They say thousands of church files made public last week showed Law was far more involved in covering up alleged sexual misconduct by priests than he had previously admitted.

The documents revealed one priest was assigned to two parishes despite his record of molesting boys, another molested young girls while telling them he was the living embodiment of Jesus Christ and a third fathered two children and did not immediately call for help when their mother overdosed.

The release of the files came as the Archdiocese of Boston threatened to declare bankruptcy as a way of dealing with the estimated 450 lawsuits it faces from clergy sexual assault victims.

"Cardinal Law said this week the church is bankrupt. No truer words were ever said. This church is morally bankrupt," 54-year-old Susan Renehan, who says a priest sexually abused her from the age of 11 to 14, told cheering demonstrators.

Donald Smith, another alleged victim of clergy sexual abuse, said he was infuriated by the documents released over the past week.

"Cardinal Law has succeeded in shattering my faith in the Catholic Church, but not in God. Jesus would be on our side," Smith said.

Other speakers at the rally outside the 19th century cathedral called on state authorities to seize Law's passport, saying he posed a "flight risk."

In April, as the scandal raged in Boston, Law also canceled an appearance at Sunday Mass and went into seclusion. A few days later he turned up in Rome and met with Pope John Paul (news - web sites) II to discuss the impact of the scandal.


Law, leader of some 2.1 million Catholics, has apologized repeatedly for his handling of abuse cases by priests but has so far refused to step down.

Several priests have individually urged Law to resign over his handling of accused pedophile priests. But so far, no group of priests has publicly asked him to step down.

That appeared to be on the verge of changing on Sunday as a group of clergymen, exasperated by the scandal and its effect on their communities, circulated a statement calling for Law's resignation.

"The priests and people of Boston have lost confidence in you as their spiritual leader," according to a copy of the letter to Law published in The Boston Globe.

The Globe said the group hoped to gather at least 50 signatures before delivering the letter to Law. The Boston Herald reported that 50 priests had already signed the letter, and that it would be delivered to Law on Sunday.

Stephen Pope, chair of the Theology Department at Boston College, has said that any collective call by priests on Law to resign would signal "open revolt" in the archdiocese.

The church abuse scandal exploded this year when files released in the case of defrocked priest John Geoghan showed that Law and other church leaders knew about the clergyman's behavior but instead chose to shuttle him from parish to parish.

Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests