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Spotlight Report

Law is alone, apologetic as meeting starts

By Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff, 4/24/2002


Cardinal Bernard F. Law kisses the ring of Pope John Paul II before the pontiff addressed US church leaders. (AP Photo)
ROME - Here, where he was elevated to cardinal in 1985 and anointed a rising star of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States, Cardinal Bernard F. Law of Boston lowered his glance and sought forgiveness this week from his fellow cardinals.

''In a sense, if I had not made the terrible mistakes that I made, we would not be here; I apologize for that,'' he told a gathering of 12 American cardinals and two top bishops on the eve of yesterday's opening session of an extraordinary meeting at the Vatican to confront the priest sexual abuse scandal, according to several who were in attendance.

That scandal, which is now rattling the Catholic Church in the United States and undercutting the moral authority of its leadership, reached a crisis in January after the court-ordered release of archdiocesan documents disclosed that Law had shuffled a known pedophile priest from one parish to another, rather than defrocking him.

Other documents showing that Law allowed a second known pedophile to remain as a priest deepened the crisis and left Law facing calls for his resignation, a position supported by 65 percent of Boston Catholics, according to a Boston Globe-WBZ-TV poll published earlier this month.

''He apologized for all that,'' Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago said yesterday in describing their gathering. ''He's facing it very clearly. He didn't speak about a possible resignation, and none asked him about it.''

Demonstrating humility and contrition to his fellow prelates, Law made the statements on the campus of the North American College, which overlooks the Vatican.

It was an hour-and-a-half session in which the cardinals attempted to come up with their strategy to adopt new national guidelines for investigating allegations of sexual abuse by priests and to control the damage caused by the turmoil which has affected dioceses in New York, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and elsewhere across the United States.

While the US cardinals are facing varying degrees of trouble with their constituents for mishandling such cases, Law remains at the center of the scandal, and the future of his leadership hangs in the balance.

Boston's cardinal appeared uniquely isolated at the historic meeting.

He has stayed inside the gated and guarded Vatican City at a residence separate from the dormitory where the other cardinals are staying at the North American College.

He is being shuttled to the Apostolic Palace for the meetings on his own, rather than in the small bus that has carried his colleagues to and from the proceedings.

The other cardinals arrived with small entourages of media advisers who busily booked them on network television shows and managed their appearances. Law stayed inside the private residence, far from reporters. He has refused to be interviewed for the past two months.

Passengers on his Alitalia flight to Rome said that while other cardinals sat in business class, Law flew in coach.

As Law offered his sorrow over the scandal to his fellow cardinals on Monday, the media buzzed - as they have all week - about a front page Los Angeles Times report that quoted an unnamed cardinal and bishop who said that Law should step down. It was believed that the cardinal quoted in the newspaper report was Cardinal Roger M. Mahony of Los Angeles, the only American prelate who has come close publicly to saying that Law should resign.

But yesterday Mahony denied that he was the source of the story.

When asked if he believed Law should remove himself from his post, Mahony said only: ''That is up to Cardinal Law and the Holy Father.''

This story ran on page A17 of the Boston Globe on 4/24/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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