c. 2005 Religion News Service
VATICAN CITY _ Cardinal Bernard Law, the former archbishop of Boston who resigned for mishandling the clergy sex abuse scandal, celebrated Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday (April 11) despite a small protest from victims advocates that Law didn’t deserve the honor.
Two leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) flew to Rome to complain that allowing Law such a prominent pulpit poured “salt into an already open wound.”
Law presided at one of the daily memorial Masses during the “novemdiales,” the official nine-day mourning period for Pope John Paul II, who died April 2. Last year, John Paul named Law to the ceremonial post of archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome.
Barbara Blaine, president of the Chicago-based SNAP, was escorted by Italian police from St. Peter’s Square and behind some traffic barriers when she attempted to distribute fliers to pilgrims and tourists in the square.
The small protest attracted more attention from the media and curiosity from tourists than anything substantive, but showed nonetheless that the American branch of the Catholic Church continues to be haunted by the issue of abusive priests.
Blaine accused the Vatican _ and the other 10 U.S. cardinals who will vote to elect the next pope _ of being insensitive to victims of clergy sexual abuse and overlooking Law’s admitted mistakes.
“Cardinal Law is being put in a position of prominence and it’s basically rubbing salt into an already open wound,” Blaine told reporters. “Cardinal Law is the equivalent of, the poster child of, the sexual abuse scandal within the Catholic Church.”
Blaine said SNAP leaders intend to remain in Rome to try to make the abuse scandal a “major consideration” in the election of the next pope, but the 115 cardinals who will vote have sequestered themselves from the public until their secret conclave opens next Monday (April 18).
Law’s solemn Mass went off without a hitch, and he made no mention of the scandal during his 10-minute homily. The only reaction came when the audience burst into applause when Law recognized John Paul’s longtime personal secretary, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz.
Law spoke in Italian to the mostly local crowd of priests, nuns and parishioners. During the Mass, Law was seated in a gilt golden chair in front of the altar.
Vatican observers cautioned against reading too much into Law’s appearance at St. Peter’s. The Mass was offered for the priests and employees at Rome’s four major basilicas, church officials said, which made Law a natural choice to preside.
“They (the presiders) are chosen because of the offices they have at the present moment,” Monsignor Charles Burns, a former Vatican archivist, told reporters Monday.
Still, Law’s appearance at the spiritual and historic center of the Roman Catholic faith sent a subtle political message that while he remains reviled in some parts of the American church, he is a powerful and respected voice in the Vatican.
Law resigned in December 2002 after the Boston Globe revealed that he shuffled and protected known abusers. After a brief stint at a Maryland convent, Law was transferred to Rome, where he is responsible for the upkeep of the massive basilica built to honor the Virgin Mary.
Although Law lost his job in Boston, he retained his vote in the College of Cardinals, and also kept his position in the Vatican agency that helps the pope appoint new bishops.
Blaine said Law never should have been asked, or at least should have excused himself out of concern for victims. She did not, however, contest his right to vote in the conclave to elect a new pope.
“He should take a back seat and stay in the background so that Catholics who are grieving the loss of the Holy Father can have their space to grieve without having Cardinal Law in their face,” she said.
MO/PH END ECKSTROM