Cardinal Law Still a Public Figure in Rome

By Victor L. Simpson
Providence Journal [Vatican]
Downloaded November 21, 2003

VATICAN CITY (AP) - He has met several times with the pope, including on Friday, showed up at a Latin rite Mass in a Rome basilica and participated in the state funeral this week of Italian soldiers killed in Iraq.

Nearly a year after resigning as archbishop of Boston to quell an outcry over the sex abuse scandal, Cardinal Bernard Law has become a more visible figure in Rome than in his home country, where he lives at a convent in Maryland.

Law was widely criticized for his handling of the sex abuse crisis that exploded in Boston. He resigned last December, the highest-ranking church official to step down over the scandal in the United States. He became resident chaplain of the Sisters of Mercy of Alma convent in Clinton, Maryland.

But he retained his membership on nine Vatican congregations and councils, bringing him frequently to Rome.

It is not known whether the Vatican plans to offer any new position to Law, who is now listed as "archbishop emeritus" of Boston. At age 72, he still has eight years of eligibility to vote in a conclave that would elect a new pope.

The Vatican press office announced Law had met Friday with Pope John Paul II, but said the meeting was private and that no details would be provided.

Law's most visible appearance in recent months came Tuesday, when he joined several cardinals in celebrating the funeral Mass for 19 Italians killed in a suicide truck bombing in southern Iraq.

RAI Italian state television pointed him out on the altar and said his presence was a sign of American solidarity with Italy. The Vatican shared the same view, as the Mass' main celebrant was the pope's vicar for Rome, Cardinal Camillo Ruini.

"That's typical of Cardinal Law. He's been comforting the afflicted his whole life," said Jack Shaughnessy Sr., a Boston businessman who described himself as a close friend of Law for 10 years.

But David Clohessy, national director for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, called Law's recent prominence in Rome "disappointing."

"Many believe, in essence, that Cardinal Law is banished, is persona non grata," Clohessy said. "It's been clear for a while that's not the case. It simply rubs salt in the wounds of many people who were needlessly victimized on his watch."

Law didn't attend the July installation of his successor in Boston, Bishop Sean Patrick O'Malley. But he is a familiar figure around the Vatican.

He flew over for some of the events for John Paul's 25th anniversary as pontiff in October, including the open house meetings with 30 newly installed cardinals when thousands of visitors streamed in to greet the new princes of the church.

In May, he showed up at a Latin rite Mass in St. Mary Major Basilica, celebrated especially to draw back into the fold followers of an ultraconservative archbishop who refused to accept the Church's liberalizing reforms in the 1960s.

"I have a lot of esteem for the Tridentine rite," Law explained to reporters at the time who had the rare opportunity to ask him a question.

Law doesn't announce his comings and goings and has not responded to interview requests.

Shaughnessy and other defenders contend Law "got a raw deal" from the media and that he has much to offer the Church. "I can't believe the Holy Father would not take advantage of his skills," he said.

Clohessy, however, said: "I believe he's forfeited the opportunity to use what skills and talents he has within the Church hierarchy."

Associated Press reporter Jay Lindsay contributed to this story from Boston.


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