Cardinal Law, Ousted in
U.S. Scandal, Is Given a Major Role in Rites.
By Laurie Goodstein
ROME, April 7 - Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign in
disgrace as archbishop of Boston two years ago for protecting sexually
abusive priests, was named by the Vatican today as one of nine prelates
who will have the honor of presiding over funeral Masses for Pope John
To many American Catholics, Cardinal Law is best known as the archbishop
who presided over the Boston archdiocese as it became the focus for the
sexual abuse scandal involving priests.
But to Vatican officials, Cardinal Law is a powerful kingmaker who
traveled internationally for the church and whose favorite priests were
regularly appointed bishops by John Paul. After he stepped down in
Boston in 2003, he was given a spacious apartment and a prestigious
although honorary post in Rome as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary
It is by virtue of this position that he was given the high-profile role
of celebrating Monday's funeral ritual, the third in the nine-day
mourning period that follows a pope's death. It is expected that most of
the cardinals will attend the Mass, which will be open to the public.
Cardinal Law will deliver a homily that many Vatican watchers will parse
for clues about the cardinals' thinking on who should be the next pope.
By permitting Cardinal Law to take the limelight in Rome just when the
church is mourning the death of John Paul, the cardinals have reminded
American Catholics that their most painful recent chapter barely
registered in the Vatican.
"It's yet another example of the gap between how the Vatican sees things
and how the U.S. church sees things," said the Rev. Keith F. Pecklers,
an American Jesuit who is a professor at the Gregorian, a pontifical
university in Rome. "This kind of thing can open the wounds for people
just when the healing was beginning."
Cardinal Law resigned after a judge decided to unseal court records that
included a letter from the cardinal commending priests even though he
knew they had been accused at one time of abusing children. After saying
for a year that he would not resign, he finally stepped down and
cloistered himself for a while in a monastery until his appointment in
More than 600 people who say they were victims have come forward in the
Boston archdiocese, the fourth-largest in the United States. The church
there has paid settlements of more than $90 million, and Cardinal Law's
successor, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, has had to consolidate parishes
and close Catholic schools to cope with the resulting financial
In Boston, Bernie McDaid, one of as many as 50 people who have accused
the Rev. Joseph Birmingham of sexual abuse, said he and others among
them were "infuriated" to learn Thursday of Cardinal Law's prominence in
the papal funeral and transition.
"He never lost power, even though he stepped down from Boston," Mr.
McDaid said. "In any other corporation if you lost your rank and left,
you'd lose your power and you'd be stripped of your title." But, "here
he is in Rome, still as powerful as he was before."
The nine days of mourning begins on Friday, with the requiem Mass, over
which the dean of the College of Cardinals, Joseph Ratzinger of Germany,
As a member of the College of Cardinals who is under age 80, Cardinal
Law is eligible to vote in the conclave that will elect the next pope.
The conclave is scheduled to begin on April 18.
In Rome, neither Cardinal Law nor Archbishop O'Malley responded to
interview requests. Cardinal Law was among the American cardinals who
attended a reception this evening with President Bush and his wife,
Laura, at the United States Embassy residence. At a news conference on
Thursday, Cardinal Edward M. Egan of New York said he believed that
Cardinal Law had been chosen to preside at the funeral Mass because of
his status as archpriest in the basilica. He declined to say whether he
The list of the nine prelates selected to celebrate funeral Masses for
the pope was announced Thursday by Archbishop Piero Marini, master of
the Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff.
One senior Vatican official familiar with the workings of the College of
Cardinals, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the cardinals
approved the list during their meetings this week.
When asked whether Cardinal Law's role in the American scandal was taken
into consideration, the official said, "I don't think so." He said that
Cardinal Law was not acting as a former Boston archbishop in celebrating
the Mass but in "another capacity - he's one of the senior cardinals."
However, one Vatican expert said that by tradition, the cardinals had no
choice but to select Cardinal Law to preside at one of the nine funeral
Masses. Dr. John-Peter Pham, author of "Heirs of the Fisherman," a book
about papal succession, said it was customary for the archpriest of one
of three patriarchal basilicas in Rome, St. Peter's, St. Paul's and St.
Mary Major, to celebrate a novemdiales Mass.
Two of the archpriests are already celebrating Masses in different
ceremonial roles; having them celebrate two Masses would violate
protocol, Dr. Pham said.
Source: New York Times,
Published: April 8, 2005
Daniel J. Wakin contributed reporting from Rome for this article, and
Katie Zezima from Boston.