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Spotlight Report

Law saw pope, discussed quitting

Made secret Rome trip; says he'll address crisis

By Michael Paulson and Michael Rezendes, Globe Staff, 4/17/2002

 Document
Text of Law's statement
Cardinal Bernard F. Law said in a statement released last night that he had secretly traveled to Rome to discuss calls for his resignation with Pope John Paul II.

The cardinal said he discussed ''the fact that my resignation has been proposed as necessary,'' but that he is coming back as archbishop of Boston and is planning to address ''at length'' the archdiocese's handling of clergy sexual abuse cases.

The statement was somewhat elliptical, not specifying when Law went to Rome or whether he advocated or resisted his resignation. Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, did not return a phone call seeking clarification of the statement.

''For the past few days I have been in Rome to seek counsel and advice,'' Law wrote. ''The focus of my meetings was the impact of the [Rev. Paul R.] Shanley and other sexual abuse cases upon public opinion in general and specifically upon the members of the archdiocese. The fact that my resignation has been proposed as necessary was part of my presentation.''

Law said he met with several Vatican officials, including the pope, who, he said, ''are very conscious of the gravity of the situation.'' The Vatican has summoned the US cardinals, including Law, to Rome next week to discuss clergy sexual abuse. The sex abuse crisis has led dioceses around the country to dismiss scores of priests and prosecutors to launch investigations in response to allegations that more than 1,000 Catholic priests have molested thousands of minors in this country over the last five decades.

Law has not spoken with the news media in more than two months and has not been seen in public for the last week. His office has declined to discuss his whereabouts over the last several days, although his spokeswoman said Friday that the cardinal was ''in private meetings and in prayer.''

In the statement issued last night, Law said he now intends to explain his handling of priests accused of sexual abuse, with the assistance of church-controlled media outlets.

''It is my intent to address at length the record of the archdiocese's handling of these cases by reviewing the past in as systematic and comprehensive [a] way as possible, so that legitimate questions which have been raised might be answered,'' he said. ''The facilities of Boston Catholic Television and The Pilot will assist in making this record available.''

Law did not say when he plans to offer his review of the record, but it is not expected to appear in this week's edition of the Pilot, which is published on Fridays. Interviewed last night, both the executive editor of The Pilot, Monsignor Peter V. Conley, and the editor, Antonio M. Enrique, said they were unaware of Law's plan, and that it would be difficult, although not impossible, to reconfigure this week's paper.

Law's statement, and his secret trip to Rome, stunned church observers. Law apparently slipped out of town without alerting many of his own staff and supporters.

''The secrecy of going over there like that is really weird - you'd love to know how they got him out of town without being noticed,'' said David J. O'Brien, director of the Center for Religion, Ethics and Culture at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester. ''There's a public interest in these matters, but they don't see these things that way, and he really is not accountable to the public or his own community, but only to the Holy Father. But I can't imagine that he [Law] will now come up with something that will be persuasive to the public at large, or to the outraged Catholics who are so upset. This is going to drag this out, and you hate to have the focus so much on him.''

The letter lent credence to suspicions that it is the Vatican, and not Law himself, that is deciding whether the cardinal remains as archbishop of Boston, a job he has held since 1984.

The Globe reported yesterday that, last week, Law had relayed to the office of the papal nuncio in Washington that he thought he should resign. But the cardinal was asked not to submit his resignation until the pope and his top aides could deliberate about how to proceed.

''It certainly does suggest that his decisions are being made in consultation with the Vatican - that seems clear from all this - and presumably they are being considered in the wider context of the American Catholic Church,'' said Mary Jo Bane, a Harvard professor and member of the parish council at Saint William Church in Dorchester who has coordinated a signature-gathering effort to get Law to resign.

Philip F. Lawler, a former editor of The Pilot who now runs a Web site called Catholic World News, agreed.

''This tends to confirm the idea that he had indicated his readiness to resign,'' Lawler said. ''He's not a monster - he's a good man, trying very hard to do what he thinks is right. He is struggling right now, and seeking guidance. His ambiguity has to be read as studied ambiguity, leaving room for maneuver.''

Lawyers for priest abuse victims were furious.

''The notion that the cardinal is going to respond to the horrific Paul Shanley case through media controlled by the Archdiocese of Boston is both incomprehensible and pathetic,'' said attorney Roderick MacLeish Jr., who represents people who say they were victims of Shanley, a Boston priest MacLeish accuses of having molested numerous minors over three decades. ''The truth is going to come out, but it's going to come out in the civil and criminal justice system.''

Mitchell Garabedian, a Boston lawyer who has represented scores of people who say they were molested by John J. Geoghan, also objected to Law's plan for explaining how the church handles abusive priests.

''The church must learn to open its doors and its heart unconditionally to parishioners and victims in order to treat this serious matter properly,'' he said.

A national advocate for victims said the church needs to go further than debating Law's resignation.

''For survivors the question for weeks has not been, `Should Cardinal Law resign?' It's, `Should five or six bishops resign, including those who served under Law and had as much or more direct knowledge''' of priests accused of sexual misconduct, said David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. ''My fear is that whenever and however Law leaves, some people will be deluded into thinking that a new day has dawned, when in fact the problem is much broader and more systemic than any one church leader,''

But Stephen J. Pope, the chairman of the Boston College theology department, found some positive elements to Law's statement, saying ''he's noting the gravity of the situation, he's placing a primary emphasis on the protection of children, and he's recognizing that there are legitimate questions.''

Walter V. Robinson and Stephen Kurkjian of the Globe Staff contributed to this report.Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com; Michael Rezendes can be reached at rezendes@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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