The Boston Globe, May 30, 2004
new cardinal sin
By Eileen McNamara, Globe Columnist
about the Death of Irony.
It wasn't enough to evict parishioners from 65 churches in the scandal-stained
Archdiocese of Boston? The Vatican had to choose the same week to
install the chief architect of this disaster in a Roman basilica?
Set aside the fundamental depravity of rewarding
an unindicted coconspirator in serial child
rape with a plush posting to the Eternal City.
How much clearer a signal could the Roman Catholic
Church send to the faithful that it administers
justice in two tiers, one for the laity and
another for its clerics?
Before the Rev. Christopher Coyne, the archdiocesan
spokesman, calls to remind me of the central
role of forgiveness in Catholic theology, how
about a review of the concept of repentance?
It was still a prerequisite for forgiveness
the last time I checked my Baltimore Catechism.
Saying the occasional Mass for five nuns in a
suburban Maryland convent, between regular
jaunts to Rome, earns Cardinal Bernard F. Law
absolution for enabling and then covering up
decades of crimes against children? Why didn't
his confessor just tell His Eminence to say
three Hail Marys and call it even?
The layer of frosting on this hierarchical hypocrisy
was the pronouncement from Pope John Paul II
on Friday that the United States is "a
society increasingly in danger of forgetting
its spiritual roots."
That warning, issued to some visiting American
bishops, more aptly applies to the Vatican
itself. Where exactly did the pontiff see "arrogance"
on the list of virtues that Jesus enumerated
during the Sermon on the Mount? Blessed, he
said, are the meek, the merciful, the peacemakers,
and the pure in heart; please, stop me when
you recognize the former archbishop of Boston.
Blessed, he said, are the persecuted. Persecuted?
Law wasn't even prosecuted, despite knowingly
transferring serial predators from parish to
parish rather than removing them from ministry
and despite dodging his responsibility for
the coverup under oath in depositions that
prolonged the pain of the victims.
The cardinal did apologize, we are sure to be
reminded. Tell that to Patrick McSorley's family
and friends. They didn't see Law at the funeral
for Patrick, who died of a drug overdose in
February. The last Patrick saw of Law, the
cardinal was sitting across a conference table,
stonewalling lawyers during the civil lawsuit
against the church that tolerated the abuse
that John J. Geoghan meted out to Patrick and
to so many others in three decades as a Catholic
Law could have been meek, merciful, a peacemaker.
He could have spared Patrick McSorley and the
other victims, but "settlement" was
synonymous with "surrender" to the
embattled archbishop. He gave no ground. The
case did not end until he was gone. The pain
The Vatican's appointment of Law as head priest
at the Basilica of St. Mary Major is an affront
to every immigrant whose hard-earned nickels
and dimes built the churches that will now
be razed or sold off for condominiums to ease
the financial burden brought by the clergy
sexual abuse crisis. It does not matter whether
the proceeds are used directly to pay the multimillion-dollar
settlements to abuse victims. The coffers are
empty because the scandal emptied the pews
of the people and their checkbooks.
A diminished priesthood and disheartened laity
could have inspired thoughtful reflection in
Rome. Instead, it provoked a fearful retrenchment,
an attack on American Catholics who question
church policy on women priests, on celibacy,
on the attempt to assert control over the votes
of Catholic politicians.
So many hoped that the scandal in Boston would
end with transparency, with light streaming
through the open doors and windows of the people's
churches. Instead, it ends with the hierarchy
withdrawing into a smaller, darker fortress,
embracing only those who share its rigid clericalism,
with the pope actually promoting the man who
symbolizes all that went so terribly wrong
Eileen McNamara is a Globe columnist. She
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
© Copyright 2004 Globe Newspaper Company.
Basilica of St. Mary Major, Rome
(photo by Ed Mitchell)
Boston Globe, July 4, 2004
Boston's former archbishop
finds a new role in Eternal City
By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff
ROME -- In the Eternal City, where two millenniums
of Catholic triumphs and tragedies are etched
into underground caverns and soaring churches,
Cardinal Bernard F. Law is quietly reclaiming
a portion of the influence and prestige he
once enjoyed as archbishop of Boston.
He is playing an active role in governing the
world's largest religious body, serving on
an unusually high number of Vatican congregations
charged with, among other things, the appointment
of bishops and the oversight of priests around
He is the titular head of two significant churches
here: the Basilica of St. Mary Major, one of
the four patriarchal basilicas of the Catholic
Church, and Santa Susanna, an ancient parish
now dedicated to serving Americans in Rome.
He is seen about town with some frequency, patronizing
some of the same restaurants he preferred when
Rome was just a place he visited, and sitting
in the front row at important Vatican events.
Although in Boston, his role in the clergy sexual
abuse scandal made it difficult for him to
appear in public without being shadowed by
reporters and protesters, his public presence
causes barely a ripple in Rome. Here he is
overshadowed within the church by dozens of
other red-robed cardinals and a beloved pope,
in society by more pressing domestic scandals
and controversies, and on the streets not only
by ancient ruins and Renaissance art, but by
modern thrills like the cast and crew of ''Oceans
12," a motion picture now in production
in the city's streets.
This past week, Law celebrated Mass at both of
his churches, on Sunday in English at Santa
Susanna, the parish where he has served as
cardinal-priest since 1985, and on Tuesday
in Latin and Italian at St. Mary Major, the
basilica where he was named archpriest little
more than a month ago. At both Masses, he was
attended by his former secretary in Boston,
Monsignor Paul B. McInerny, who is the director
of Boston Catholic Television.
In Rome, church activists on both the left and
right are unhappy with the pope's decision
to appoint Law to head a basilica, even though
the position is more ceremonial than influential.
''The maneuver is always the same: Move the priest
or bishop who has committed the political or
moral infraction to another church, and in
this manner you preserve the dignity of clergyman
and the church," said Luigi De Paoli,
spokesman for the Italian association Noi Siamo
Chiesa (We are the Church), a liberal Catholic
lay movement that advocates for church reform.
De Paoli said he believes the Vatican will
ultimately have to apologize for giving Law
the new post, as it has had to apologize for
other decisions in the past.
''The Vatican is out of touch with modernity,
where it is no longer acceptable to hide the
problem and pretend it has been resolved,"
Conservative Catholics have several times protested
outside the basilica -- most recently on Friday
-- objecting to Law's selection as archpriest.
''This is a city that lives according to certain
basic Christian values, and we don't think
it's right to have a priest who defended criminals,
and they were truly criminals who were guilty
of atrocious acts, working here," said
Roberto Bevilacqua, regional coordinator for
the far-right political party Fiamma Tricolore.
''There are many people who are upset and have
joined our cause -- local residents, parishioners,
Catholics who do not accept the fact that Law
defended priests guilty of such horrific crimes.
We will continue this fight for as long as
At the Mass Law celebrated Tuesday, in honor
of the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul,
a handful of Americans recognized Law, but
many other visitors did not, including a couple
from Canada. The basilica is an important pilgrimage
site for Catholic tourists -- the current structure
dates to the fifth century, has a striking
golden coffered ceiling, and is packed with
mosaics depicting biblical scenes.
Jim Ferlmann of Naperville, Ill., said at first
he knew the cardinal in the golden miter looked
familiar, but he wasn't sure why.
''Most people here probably don't know his history,
so if they are willing to have him as their
shepherd, then fine," Ferlmann said. ''But
I'd feel very uncomfortable coming to Mass
knowing that he is here."
Dawn Guarino, 44, of Shrewsbury, Mass., said
some members of her tour group, all from the
Worcester Diocese, decided not to visit St.
Mary Major because ''it would have been hard
for them to watch him do Mass." She attended
the Tuesday Mass because she wanted to see
the important basilica, but said ''it's ironic
he's here in such a high position."
Some Americans living in Rome are unhappy as
well. Patricia Thomas, who grew up in Newton,
said she was not pleased with Law's role at
Santa Susanna, the church where her son goes
for religious education.
''When he resigned, I think we all knew the Vatican
wasn't going to leave him on the street --
they don't do that to cardinals -- but we hoped
that the Vatican would kick him upstairs, upstairs
being a lonely room hidden somewhere deep inside
the Vatican," Thomas said. ''One Sunday
morning when I took my son to Mass and found
that Cardinal Law was presiding, I was extremely
uncomfortable. I thought about leaving, but
did not. I did tell my son that man had been
a cardinal in Boston for many years and that
I did not like him for some things he had done.
I left it at that. It also bothers me that
he gets to vote for the next pope, but that
is another issue."
On the street, reaction is calmer. An online
Roman news site, RomaOne.com, ran a story with
an excited headline, ''He covered up for the
pedophile priests? Now we're expecting him,"
but a text in which neighbors and passersby
told a reporter they were willing to give Law
a chance. ''We're waiting to get to know him
and in any case he wasn't directly involved
in the scandal," said a souvenir vendor
outside the basilica.
And church officials are quite sympathetic to
''There is a basic consensus on two points --
that Law made mistakes, and that those mistakes
were grossly exaggerated so that he was unfairly
made to bear the weight of the entire scandal
on his shoulders," said John L. Allen
Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National
Catholic Reporter. ''Most Vatican officials
respect him as bright, well-connected, and
someone who knows the Catholic world."
Law did not respond to a written request for
an interview, and after the Tuesday Mass declined
to speak to a reporter. During the Mass, he
briefly acknowledged English- and Spanish-speaking
visitors in attendance, thanked Bishop Daniel
A. Hart, the retired bishop of Norwich, Conn.,
who assisted at the Mass, and praised the basilica's
musical singers as ''the finest choir in Rome."
Law is paid the same salary granted other Vatican
cardinals -- 4,000 Euros a month, which under
the current exchange rate is about $4,900,
Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls told
the National Catholic Reporter. The newspaper
said that amount must cover Law's expenses
as well as the cost of a car and driver and
his household staff.
Law is also entitled to an apartment in the basilica
complex, where a number of church officials
live, but it is not clear whether he has moved
An archdiocesan spokesman said last week that
the church was unable to say whether Law is
still receiving any salary or benefits from
the Archdiocese of Boston.
Globe correspondent Alexandra Salomon contributed
to this report. Michael Paulson can be reached
EDITORIAL: National Catholic Reporter, April
Law's power a
symbol of deeper crisis
The flap over Cardinal Bernard Laws appearance
as celebrant of one of the nine Masses at St.
Peters Basilica during the period of
mourning for the late Pope John Paul II may
seem a minor dustup in the long trajectory
of the clergy sex abuse scandals.
After all, only two people showed up to protest,
the Mass went on as scheduled, the controversy
was not expected to have an effect on the conclave,
and the headlines faded quickly.
What will not fade, however, is the power of
symbol to evoke deeper truths and to raise
unsettling questions. Laws presence in
the limelight once more -- not before the media
answering long-standing questions about the
diocese he left in disarray, but as a representative
of the church in a high-profile setting, a
place of honor -- was an unbelievably inept
and insensitive move.
Offensive as that was to victims of sexual abuse,
even more damaging to the wider church is Laws
continuing membership on some of the most powerful
congregations and councils in Rome. Someone
who has caused such great damage to a major
diocese through mismanagement and ultimately
the cover-up of child sex abuse should not
be allowed near the levers of power in the
Vatican defenders of Law suggest that he has
already paid for what he did in Boston by losing
that see, and they say his appointment in 2004
as archpriest of St. Mary Major in Rome merely
acknowledged a lifetime of service to the church,
that it was a sign that the church believes
in forgiveness and redemption for everyone.
If the sex abuse scandal and resulting crises
of authority and credibility in the church
could be so easily collapsed into such notions
of forgiveness and redemption, the matter would
have been over long ago. It isnt that
easy. The community can forgive but still waits
for an accounting.
Well leave it to God and to those affected
by Laws conduct in the scandal to deal
personally with such deeply individual matters.
That is not to suggest that the community cannot
forgive and acknowledge an individuals
redemption within it. But it is intolerable,
both to the community and to those individuals
whose lives have been so seriously affected
by Laws actions, to suggest that continued
pursuit of accountability is equivalent to
a lack of forgiveness.
What the Vaticans explanation seems to
imply is that we should not only forgive but
also become reconciled to Law in a way that
would mean discontinuing any discussion of
what happened in Boston and to stop connecting
it to what is happening now.
But reconciliation cannot be forced; it depends
as much on acknowledgment of what went wrong
as it does the will of both parties to reconcile.
Reconciliation holds within it expectations
of justice, of a certain equanimity between
parties, of a meeting of minds. Such cannot
happen at a distance or by wish or imposition.
It bears repeating that the sex abuse crisis
is no longer mostly about sexual abuse. It
is more enduringly a crisis of authority and
accountability. Law lost his position in the
United States only after a torrent of bad publicity
and enormous pressure from priests and laity
in the archdiocese.
Anyone who reads through the relevant and extensive
correspondence of not only Law but his auxiliary
bishops -- many of whom went on to positions
of greater responsibility -- as well as through
the depositions he gave can only conclude that
Law was fortunate to get out of Boston and
the United States without facing greater legal
His handling of the crisis and his words led
to a deepening of the scandal for Catholics,
greater pain for victims of priest abusers
and a perilous financial crisis that has led
to a disruption of church life in the Boston
That such gross breaches of trust with the Catholic
community should continue to be rewarded with
positions of power in Rome exacerbates the
scandal and continues to erode confidence and
trust in the institutional church.
As NCR Rome correspondent John L. Allen Jr. has
reported, Law continues to serve as a full
member on a total of eight Vatican congregations
and councils, including the Congregation for
Bishops, the Congregation for Clergy, the Congregation
for Consecrated Life and the Societies of Apostolic
Life and the Congregation for Catholic Education.
Those posts represent the potential for significant
influence over both the direction and leadership
of the church.
Vatican officials may not yet understand the
strong feelings expressed by Americans about
the crisis and the lack of accountability on
the part of bishops. But were used to
systems, imperfect as they are, that bring
to account, regardless of position or financial
standing, those found to seriously violate
the public trust.
The wonder is not that two protesters flew 5,000
miles to make a point about accountability.
The wonder is that we have yet to hear similar
calls from Laws peers in the hierarchy.
The church could use that kind of first step
toward reclaiming the moral credibility that
was so seriously damaged in recent years.
National Catholic Reporter, April 22, 2005
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