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Did Cardinal Law Fall from Grace?

Marian T. Horvat, Ph.D.

3monkeys.jpg - 21288 Bytes Just one year ago, the headlines were blaring the news that Cardinal Bernard Law had stepped down from the Boston Archdiocese. His resignation came in wake of revelations of his long and shameful record of cover-up in handling clergy sexual abuse cases in the fourth largest diocese of the United States.

Cardinal law offers resignation

Cardinal Law offered his resignation to JPII one year ago in apparent disgrace at the Vatican  Los Angeles Times, December 14, 2002
As refresher, let me remind my readers of some facts: In January 2002 defrocked pedophile priest John Geoghan of Massachusetts was sentenced to prison for sexual assault. In April, hundreds of pages of documents were released revealing how the Boston Archdiocese had continuously covered and protected not only Geoghan, but also notorious pedophile Fr. Paul Shanley and many other priests. In a deposition in May 2002, Law tried to sidestep blame, saying he had delegated most decision-making in the Geoghan case and claiming to have forgotten almost all the details of the scandal. By Fall, public indignation had reached a fever pitch, and 58 Boston-area priests signed a petition calling for his resignation.

On December 13 at the Vatican, the Pope accepted Law’s resignation. This act certainly represented a defeat for the progressivist forces in the Church, who almost always call for “understanding and compassion” when homosexuality and pedophilia are under attack.

After Law resigned, he issued a document asking forgiveness for his actions of the past. Supposedly, this “repentance” or “contrition” would have been inspired by John Paul II, who would have been disgusted with Law’s misconduct in the Boston scandal.

One year later, we face a bad surprise. Non é vero – It isn’t true. John Paul II is not upset at all with Law’s past complacence toward pedophile priests. In fact, the opposite would seem to be the case, since for the last year Cardinal Law has been the object of a favored and preferential treatment by the Vatican. Although his influence on the Boston scene diminished, Law, age 72, has emerged a more visible and prominent figure in Rome.

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The most prestigious places have been given to Cardinal Law in Rome. Here he stands at a solemn Mass said in May 2003 at the Basilica of St. Mary Major   Inside the Vatican, June-July 2003
For example, the Cardinal emeritus retains his membership on seven Vatican Congregations that oversee the global Church and bring him frequently to Rome, where he recently spent six weeks. One of those assignments, by the way, is the Congregation for Bishops, which recommends appointments of new Bishops around the world. The past year, he met twice with John Paul II, had places of honor at various ceremonies, including the beatification of Mother Teresa and the Pope’s anniversary celebrations, and was invited to the open house meetings with the 30 newly installed Cardinals.(1) That is to say, Cardinal Law remains a Cardinal in very good standing in Rome. Nothing resembling a censure has taken place.

“Cardinal Law remains in the Pope’s and the Vatican’s good graces, notwithstanding the scandal he left behind in Boston,” noted Fr. Richard O’Brien, progressivist theologian at the University of Notre Dame. "I have assumed from the beginning that Cardinal Law would [eventually] be given a Vatican post, perhaps one involving diplomatic service …. Regardless of what many people in Boston and the U.S. may have thought, Cardinal Law is not going to remain on the ecclesiastical shelf."(2)

Strangely enough, the Cardinal’s resignation seems to have earned him a greater prestige and sympathy in Vatican circles. John Allen, who pens a Vatican news/gossip column for National Catholic Reporter, said: “When I watch Cardinal Law being greeted at public events in Rome, what I notice so often is a kind of warmness and sympathy for him that I really don’t think existed before the scandal,” (3)

Certainly, this raises questions for the great majority of U.S. Catholics scandalized by continuing reports of clergymen who have committed sexual abuse against minors and been covered for by the authorities. Does the Vatican really take seriously the gravity of the pedophile crisis in the clergy in the United States? It seems that it does not. Why?

a01n_LawJPII2003.jpg - 10410 Bytes

In October 2003 John Paul II received the former head of the Boston Archdiocese.
On November 21, Law had another private meeting with JPII,
and Church-watchers say they expect him to get a new assignment
First, we have the Vatican rejection of the Dallas documents drafted by the U.S. Bishops in June 2002 that would have held Prelates responsible for their actions and meted out strong punishment to the guilty priests. The Vatican redraft in effect discharged the Bishops of any juridical responsibility over the decisions regarding pedophile priests and provided all kind of juridical loopholes for the guilty priests to avoid severe penalties. Second, now we see the privileged treatment given to a supposedly shamed Cardinal.

One might also wonder why the Cardinal is received with even more sympathy at the Vatican now than he had enjoyed before the crisis. It is a behavior that doesn’t make sense, unless the Vatican has also issued a policy committed to covering up pedophile priests.

It is very difficult to avoid the conclusions of Philip Lawyer in his well-written article “The Scandal in Boston – And Beyond” (Catholic World Report, March 2002).

Lawyer wrote:
“For a decade now, the Holy See has looked on quietly as the pedophilia scandal has engulfed the American Church. Does the relationship between the Vatican and Cardinal Law today resemble the relationship between the Cardinal and John Geoghan in 1985?”
I think we could go a step further than Mr. Lawyer who, writing in March 2002, was already suggesting a Vatican cover-up of the corruption of the American Hierarchy. With the support of John Paul II for the fallen Cardinal, it becomes ever more clear that any Vatican cover-up has also been sanctioned by the highest authority of the Church.

1. “Cardinal Law More Visible in Rome,” Victor L. Simpson, The Chicago Sun-Times, November 22, 2003
2. “New Assignment for Law Anticipated: Cardinal Visits Vatican for Meeting with Pope,” by Michael Paulson, Boston Globe, November 22, 2003.
3. “Cardinal Law Still Holds Sway at Vatican,” by Monica Brady-Myerov, NPR Saturday Weekend Edition, December 13, 2003, Internet site of National Public Radio.


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Posted December 16, 2003

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