The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


At court, cardinal avoids the crowd

By Kathleen Burge, Globe Staff, 5/9/2002

At the tender hour of 7 a.m., a few reporters had already clustered on the quiet sidewalk in Post Office Square. Then three protesters showed up, one clutching a paper bag of signs. By the time television cameras outnumbered the pigeons, even passersby were lingering, drawn by their own curiosity.

It is not often that the gray towers of Suffolk Superior Court see a dignitary, even a beleaguered one like Cardinal Bernard Law. But the crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of him was disappointed. The silver sedan with heavily tinted windows that was carrying the leader of the Archdiocese of Boston disappeared into the cavernous parking garage beneath the courthouse.

''Is that it?'' asked a reporter.

''That's it,'' said a police officer.

Law was the invisible man around the courthouse yesterday. Everybody was talking about him, but almost no one had seen him. The crowded elevators, the hallways, the courtrooms were buzzing with his name. The court officers and security guards were pummeled with questions: Have you seen him? Where is he? Did you get his autograph?

Amid the anger and pain that have roiled the Catholic Church - Law was in the courthouse to be deposed in civil lawsuits about his role in overseeing defrocked pedophile priest John J. Geoghan - the mood outside the courtroom was light.

''How did he get into the elevator with that big hat?'' asked a man on the second floor. ''You're going to burn in hell for that,'' said his companion.

Even Law's lunch, served in the courtroom, was top-secret. Midday, one security officer saw a man wheeling a tray bursting with sandwiches toward the elevator. ''Where're you going with that?'' the security officer asked.

''I can't say,'' the tray-pusher answered.

''You're going to feed the cardinal, aren't you?'' the officer wheedled.

Yesterday morning, a harbinger of Law's arrival showed up shortly before the cardinal: A bevy of Boston special operations police officers on motorcycles parked across the street from the building, five pairs of black, knee-high boots and five gleaming helmets the color of robins' eggs.

More than 100 people, mostly reporters, crammed the sidewalk. Citizens answering the call of jury duty, who often look befuddled as they try to find the building's main entrance, looked downright scared as they poked through the press gantlet.

Although Law stayed in the courthouse for six hours, he had almost no contact with anyone other than lawyers and the court officers in Courtroom 4. He entered the courthouse the same way judges and jailed criminal defendants do: through the parking garage.

Then he took a back elevator to the 12th floor and walked down a short, closed-off hallway and into the courtroom. The two members of the news media allowed brief access - a pool photographer and camera man - weren't allowed to ask questions.

By entering from the garage, Law was spared the daily indignities of entering the John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse. He didn't wait in the line weaving up to the metal detector and get ordered to plunk his wallet and keys into a black bucket. He didn't get frisked with a hand-held metal detector if he beeped when he walked through.

Law was driven to and from the Suffolk County Courthouse by Boston police in an unmarked car because of threats against the cardinal, according to a police spokeswoman.

''Obviously emotions are running high, and there have been threats at various times,'' said Mariellen Burns, a spokeswoman for the department. She declined to characterize the threats or say more about them. The protection was similar to what is given visiting dignitaries, she said. The department has rarely provided rides to the cardinal, who usually is driven by his own staff, Burns added.

The cardinal did not request the help and did not pay for the ride, she said.

While the department has given Law more protection since the priest sex abuse scandal broke in January, Burns confirmed that Law has received security on occasion since February 2001 because of a threat. She declined to say more about that threat, other than it was unrelated to the current scandal.

Matt Carroll of the Globe Staff contributed to this story. Kathleen Burge can be reached at

This story ran on page A32 of the Boston Globe on 5/9/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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