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Chicagoan's Vatican protest turns into frenzy

April 12, 2005

VATICAN CITY -- As Barbara Blaine stepped out of the driving rain and over the border from Rome into Vatican City on Monday to seek shelter under the Bernini columns of St. Peter's Square, she was greeted by a horde of journalists recklessly wielding cameras and a clap of thunder of biblical proportions.

Then, as they say, all hell broke loose. A scrum of more than 50 reporters -- most Italians or other Europeans -- surrounded Blaine, founder of the support group Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, who had come to the Vatican to protest former Boston Cardinal Bernard Law's celebration of a requiem mass honoring Pope John Paul II on Monday evening.

As the crowd surged, and Blaine, a petite Chicago attorney who says she was sexually abused by a parish priest in Ohio when she was in middle school, disappeared beneath menacing camera lenses, Italian police swept in and formed a human chain around her.

Shouting and pushing at the crowd of reporters to get back, at least a half-dozen uniformed police officers shuffled Blaine to the curb on the street just outside St. Peter's Square and deposited her back over the border into Rome.

"I don't know where that came from," Blaine said a few hours later as she sat having dinner, still soggy from the rain and a little shaken from the experience. "We're afraid to go back. But we're going to do something. We just don't know what."

'So much outrage'

Blaine and Barbara Dorris of St. Louis, SNAP's national coordinator for outreach, had flown to Rome on Monday morning with the intention of passing out fliers to tourists outside St. Peter's Basilica, where Law, the disgraced former archbishop of Boston whose missteps many blame for launching the clergy sex-abuse scandal that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, was the main celebrant at one of nine requiem masses for John Paul.

"There was so much outrage pouring in to the [SNAP] office . . . that we thought we had to speak out," Blaine said. "We believe Cardinal Law should take a position where he is in the background."

Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002 in the wake of revelations that he had knowingly moved pedophile priests from parish to parish without warning parents, now lives in Rome, where in 2004 John Paul appointed him archpriest of St. Mary Major, one of the city's most prominent basilicas.

"We are the sons and daughters of the Catholic family who were raped, sodomized and sexually abused," Blaine said. "We should be able to focus on the Holy Father's death, instead of Cardinal Law's prominence.

"He is the equivalent of the poster child for the sex abuse scandal," she said. "When Cardinal Law was asked to say this liturgy . . . he should have recused himself."

Blaine, who didn't get a chance to distribute her fliers before police stepped in, said the other American cardinals should have intervened to stop Law from saying the requiem mass.

Law, like all of the other 115 cardinals assembled in Rome to elect a new pope during the conclave that begins April 18, is not talking. They are said to have a gentleman's agreement not to talk to media until after the conclave.

False reports of arrest

Blaine and Dorris attended part of the requiem mass, where Law read his simple homily in Italian and led the service from beneath the magnificent bronze baldacchino over the papal altar.

"It was just sad," Blaine said. "What is such a beautiful place and this solemn occasion to honor the memory of the Holy Father, and in the middle of all of that is Cardinal Law."

Despite some apparent media reports -- including one that panicked her husband back in Chicago -- Blaine was not arrested during her attempted protest outside the basilica. In fact, she said, the Italian police were very kind.

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests