Reaction Mixed over Cardinal Law's New Rome
By John Phillips - THE WASHINGTON TIMES
August 16, 2004
ROME -- About two months after Cardinal Bernard Law was appointed
to run one of the most famous churches in Rome, congregations
in the Eternal City are reacting with a mixture of compassion
and horror at receiving spiritual guidance from the former
archbishop of Boston, the Roman press reports.
Cardinal Law was forced to resign amid a scandal over his
failure to defrock John Geoghan, a priest in his archdiocese
accused of abusing more than 100 minors from 1962 to 1995.
Pope John Paul II named the American prelate on May 27 to
the relatively ceremonial post of archpriest of the basilica
of St. Mary Major, a stone's throw from the Colosseum.
Cardinal Law's new job is largely administrative, running
one of the largest and most architecturally imposing churches
in the Italian capital. It traditionally has been a recommended
place of pilgrimage for Roman Catholics visiting the city.
But critics of the appointment, especially among the Anglo-Saxon
Catholic community in Rome, say the job is more congenial
and prestigious than is appropriate. They note that Cardinal
Law occupies a comfortable apartment in the basilica that
goes with the post.
Some think it would have been better for the image of the
church had Cardinal Law taken a less visible position, perhaps
in a minor American parish.
Other Vatican watchers compare the treatment given the cardinal
with the "banishment" of Archbishop Paul Marcinkus,
the former head of the Institute for Religious Works, the
He was sent to work as an obscure parish priest in Illinois
after being accused of involvement in the Banco Ambrosiano
scandal in the 1980s. The scandal climaxed with the death
under unresolved circumstances of Roberto Calvi, the financier
known as "God's banker," who was found hanging under
Blackfriars Bridge in London in 1982.
"It would have been better if Law had just walked into
the night," said one veteran priest in Rome's Anglo-Saxon
Cardinal Law presided over a Mass at St. Mary Major for the
first time this month. The Mass is celebrated each year to
recall the appearance of the Madonna in a dream to Pope Liberius
and to a Roman nobleman on Aug. 5 in the year 352.
During the apparition, Mary told the two men to build a church
in the place where snow would fall the next morning. Church
lore says snow fell at the site where the basilica now stands.
"What a miracle it would be if it snowed to cool this
suffocating August day," Cardinal Law told hundreds of
people who attended the Mass.
Many parishioners and tourists attending the service did not
know who he was, but several who did gave him a warm welcome,
crowding around him at the end of the service to kiss his
ring and ask for his blessing, Rome's La Repubblica newspaper
"It was beautiful and very moving for me," the daily
quoted the American prelate as saying of his reception.
A volunteer worker at the basilica, identified only as Sergio,
told the newspaper, "Our religion does not condemn, it
understands, welcomes repentance and absolves.
"Cardinal Law was not accused of pedophilia," Sergio
continued. "His fault was wanting to protect the priests
of his diocese from accusations. Yes, he made mistakes. I
do not want to defend him, but he repented."
La Repubblica went on to say that "if the Italian faithful
do not condemn Law, the reaction of the Americans and English
who were present was different."
"It is unspeakable that he is here," the newspaper
quoted David Adrian, a 22-year-old student from Philadelphia,
"This is horrific," added Donald Lundy, a Scotsman.
"A priest like Law cannot be a spiritual guide."
On June 10, the Italian children's rights group Defense of
Infancy organized a demonstration against Cardinal Law's appointment
to St. Mary Major.
The rally also was attended by members of the far-right Italian
Social Movement and a citizens' committee from Piazza Vittorio,
a bustling market square near the basilica that contains one
of the few children's playgrounds in the capital's battered
"Rome, cradle of civilization, rejects pedophiles,"
the protesters chanted.
But Sergio insisted that Italian parishioners at St. Mary
Major disagreed with harsh judgments against Cardinal Law.
"Initially many parishioners found it difficult to accept
his nomination, but now the discomfort has been overcome,"