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Cardinal Law Leads Mass for the Pope, and Some Protest

By LAURIE GOODSTEIN - The New York Times
April 12, 2005

VATICAN CITY, April 11 - Less than two and a half years after he resigned as archbishop of Boston under pressure over his failure to remove pedophile priests from the ministry, Cardinal Bernard F. Law led thousands of worshipers in a memorial Mass for Pope John Paul II on Monday from the altar of the majestic St. Peter's Basilica.

The cardinal, who had been deeply reviled in his own diocese, read a homily praising John Paul, who had been greatly revered in his home diocese of Rome. "In these past few days, we experienced the touching love of the city of Rome for their pastor, a love that the pope returned," Cardinal Law said, in fluent Italian.

But the outrage that drove Cardinal Law from Boston followed him to Rome on Monday. Two representatives of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests held a news conference in St. Peter's Square to call attention to his record.

"He is the poster child of the sexual abuse scandal in America," said Barbara Blaine, a Chicago lawyer who helped found the Survivors Network. "We don't believe it's appropriate for him to be in any position of power or trust in the church."

Television news crews, largely idled since the cardinals decided Saturday to stop granting media interviews, mobbed Ms. Blaine on the square despite a downpour. The police escorted the group to a spot just outside the square's boundaries.

Cardinal Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002, after nearly a year of devastating disclosures about priests accused of sexual abuse whom he had permitted to remain in parish work. After a year of insisting that resigning was not an option, he stepped down soon after a judge unsealed church records in a court case, including correspondence showing that the cardinal wrote letters praising priests he knew were pedophiles.

The cardinal initially retreated to a convent in Maryland, but he was appointed 11 months ago to become the archpriest of one of Rome's four most prestigious churches, the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

Vatican officials said Cardinal Law was among the prelates chosen to preside over nine days of Masses for John Paul because it is a custom for the archpriest of his basilica to do so. The cardinal had always been a favorite of John Paul's, influencing the appointments of bishops and serving on more Vatican committees than any other American cardinal.

He is among 115 cardinals who will elect a successor to John Paul in a conclave beginning next Monday.

On Monday, Voice of the Faithful, an American Catholic group started in Boston in response to the sexual abuse scandal, called for Cardinal Law to sit out the conclave. His "empty chair" would send a message to the others about "the gaping wound in the church," Kristine Ward, the group's vice president, said in a statement.

From Boston to Rome, the name of Cardinal Law still connotes a certain notoriety. In St. Peter's Square on Monday, Marilyn Hughes, a tourist from the Boston area, said she was stunned to learn that he was leading a funeral Mass for the pope.

"He should have been in jail for what he did, and they elevated him; that's abhorrent," said Ms. Hughes, who is not a Catholic. She and her husband, a minister, belong to the United Church of Christ.

Giampiero Censi, a Roman who was leading an American family on a tour of St. Peter's Basilica, said, "It's just a shame for a cardinal to go to preach after he did what he did."

"What happened in America is not so uncommon," he said, referring to sexual abuse by priests. "This is a problem all over the world."

The Mass was attended by about two dozen other cardinals, among them Cardinal Justin Francis Rigali, archbishop of Philadelphia. The funeral Masses on Saturday and Sunday were also sparsely attended by the cardinal electors.

Cardinal Law, appearing heavier and more stooped than when he left Boston, communicated little in his homily except to eulogize John Paul.

Roger Chartier Jr., of Norwich, Conn., who is on a pilgrimage to Rome with his wife and others from his diocese, said: "I don't know the internal politics of the church, and I don't care. It's about serving the Lord."

But the Rev. Michael Kerrigan, a Paulist priest based in Toronto, said of the abuse scandal, "It's been hard for many of us because he represents a side of the church we're not too proud of."

While the cardinals have imposed a news media ban on themselves, groups representing the church's liberal and conservative flanks are expected to try to raise issues here this week that they hope the cardinals will consider in the conclave.

"We Are Church," a network that represents 140 liberal Catholic groups in 27 countries, is bringing in theologians to promote an agenda that includes allowing women and married men to be priests, giving more power to local bishops and laity, and changing the church's attitudes toward sexuality.

"There is a strong lack of democracy and dialogue within the church," said Christian Weisner, the international chairman of We Are Church. "I hope the cardinals will be wise in the conclave to see that the new pope has to be different from the old pope."

Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests