Church's Handling of Cardinal Law's Death Inappropriate
December 28, 2017
|Cardinal Bernard Law presides over the celebration of the third of the nine masses at Saint Peter's Basilica for Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on Monday, April 11, 2005. (ROMAIN BLANQUART/DETROIT FREE PRESS/TNS)|
Time, they say, heals all wounds.
Even if that were true — we all know someone grieving the loss of a loved one years after their death — it’s clear that not nearly enough time has passed since the Catholic Church’s clergy abuse scandal to salve the damage to its victims.
That’s one of two lessons learned from the death last week of Cardinal Bernard Law, the disgraced former head of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Law covered up sexual abuse committed against children by dozens of priests before he was forced to resign in 2002 when the scandal, and his role in it, was exposed by The Boston Globe.
“With his passing, I say I hope the gates of hell are open wide to welcome him, because I feel no redemption for somebody like him is worthwhile,” Alexa MacPherson, a native of the Boston area who says she is a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest, told reporters after Law’s death on Dec. 19 at the age of 86.
Robert Costello, another Boston-area native who says that Law covered up for the cleric who abused him, had even stronger words: “Chop him up and put weights on every piece of body part that he has and drop him in oceans around the world.”
Those raw emotions are still felt in the Attleboro area, home to one of the Catholic Church’s first and most widespread scandals.
There are still dozens of victims of Father James Porter, who began his career at St. Mary’s Church in North Attleboro, living and working in this area. They, like MacPherson and Costello, know that the pain of sexual abuse by a trusted cleric never goes away.
Time never really heals that wound.
We also learned from Cardinal Law’s death that the Catholic Church, though an improved institution, is still tone deaf when it comes to clergy abuse, especially about the role of the hierarchy in the scandal.
Law was granted a full cardinal’s funeral at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, and Pope Francis offered a short benediction at the conclusion of the service. Many victims said the pontiff should not have dignified Law, who allowed hundreds of people to suffer with his coverup.
“We highly doubt there is a single victim of abuse who will ever receive the same attention, pomp and circumstance by Pope Francis,” the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests said in a news release after Law’s death.
Those victims are still angered that Law never faced prosecution but was reassigned by the Vatican to a high-profile appointment — archpriest of a basilica — in a regal residence following his resignation in Boston.
Cardinal Sean O’Malley, who helped clean up the scandal in the Diocese of Fall River in the wake of the Father Porter scandal and who now presides over the Archdiocese of Boston, seemed to acknowledge that the Vatican was wrong in its handling of Cardinal Law by declining to attend his funeral.
“Cardinal Law served at a time when the church failed seriously in its responsibilities to provide pastoral care for her people, and with tragic outcomes failed to care for the children of our parish communities,” O’Malley said. “I deeply regret that reality and its consequences.”
The Catholic Church’s pastoral care is vastly improved today from it was two decades ago when the scandal cost it millions in settlements and, more importantly, compromised its moral authority.
But the Church’s handling of Cardinal Law’s death raises questions of whether it truly understands the damage the scandal inflicted on Catholics across the world.