Law’s Roman Holiday: It's Home Sweet Basilica for the Disgraced Cardinal

By Eric Convey
Boston Herald [Boston MA]
May 28, 2004

Stunned Catholics grappled with the news yesterday that Bernard Cardinal Law is leaving the Maryland convent to which he retreated in virtual exile at the height of the sexual-abuse scandal for a lofty - if symbolic - post in Rome.

"I think people will look on it as bad timing," said the Rev. Francis Daley of St. James the Apostle, one of two Arlington parishes scheduled to close in a sweeping reconfiguration unveiled Tuesday.

Law's new position as head priest at the Basilica of St. Mary Major will keep him in the midst of Vatican affairs and take him off the Archdiocese of Boston's payroll for the first time in nearly 20 years. The move will not bring the shame many victims of clergy sexual abuse consider appropriate.

"Why can't Vatican officials see that any position of honor afforded to Law will inevitably and needlessly cause more pain to hundreds who have been abused and have already suffered enough?" asked David Clohessy, head of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP.

"We understand that many in the hierarchy consider Law a smart man with some skills," Clohessy said. "We also know that many in the pews consider Law a near criminal with major liabilities."

Attorney Mitchell Garabedian, who represented scores of plaintiffs in abuse cases against the archdiocese, said he is worried it will be difficult to force testimony from Law in 38 new cases.

"He's not just getting out of Dodge, he's getting out of the country," Garabedian said.

Although he will work with Vatican congregations - the equivalent of departments - and help form policy, Law will not have many responsibilities in his new job. The basilicas are especially popular with tourists.

Although his new post is often given to retired cardinals, Law will retain the right to vote for the next pope.

"This is not a major appointment in Rome," said the Rev. Keith Pecklers, a Jesuit priest who teaches at the Gregorian University in Rome.

"On the one hand, it's a largely honorific position," Pecklers said. "On the other hand, it's difficult to understand how such an appointment will further the needed healing within the church in Boston."

A Vatican insider who spoke on condition of anonymity said: "As much as anything, it could be a public place of hiding."

Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley issued a statement saying Law would have been happy to live a quiet life, but "the Holy Father has assigned him to a Church in Rome, the original task of Cardinals. We pray that God will bless Cardinal Law in the ministry he takes up."

Law had lived at the Maryland convent since shortly after his resignation as archbishop Dec. 13, 2002. But he has remained a priest of the archdiocese - a designation given every bishop who moves to a new area.

St. Mary Major is one of the four major basilicas in Rome. The massive church is considered by many visitors to be among the most beautiful in the city. It's near the central Termini train station, less than a half-hour's walk from St. Peter's Square and the Vatican.

Where Law will live is unclear. The basilica includes an apartment, but Americans who recently returned from Rome said Law already has an apartment in the city.


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