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Spotlight Report

Law goes to Vatican for advice

Discussions in store about bankruptcy, lawsuits, his future

By Michael Paulson and Walter V. Robinson, Globe Staff, 12/9/2002

Cardinal Bernard F. Law has secretly flown to Rome for talks with Vatican officials about how to settle litigation by victims of clergy sexual abuse, whether the archdiocese should file for bankruptcy, and whether he should resign as archbishop of Boston, a top official of the Boston Archdiocese said.

Law is seeking advice from a number of church leaders about how to manage the extraordinary sexual abuse crisis that is engulfing the Archdiocese of Boston, according to the official, who asked not to be named. Last night, an American reporter spotted Law having dinner at a restaurant in Rome with Bishop James Harvey, the highest-ranking American on Pope John Paul II's personal staff.

The official said he expects Law to resign eventually as archbishop, a post he has held since 1984, but not until he has resolved the legal and financial crises facing the local church.

Law's spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, confirmed yesterday afternoon that Law is in Rome, but said she could not provide any details about the duration or purpose of his trip. She could not say when Law would return from Rome. Lawyers for clergy abuse victims said the cardinal is scheduled to be deposed again Dec. 17.

The cardinal's staff had for days offered no information about Law's departure from Boston, telling reporters that he was expected to appear at a Catholic Charities fund-raiser at the Four Seasons Hotel on Friday night, and telling the staff at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross it was uncertain as late as Friday whether the cardinal would celebrate Mass on Sunday. In the bulletin printed for yesterday's Mass, Law was listed as the celebrant and homilist.

Officials at the Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C., where Law is chairman of the board of trustees, said they were under the impression as late as Friday afternoon that Law would be attending a board meeting that begins today and runs through Wednesday. But yesterday a university spokesman said Law had notified the university's president that he would not make the meeting.

At virtually the same time that Morrissey was telling reporters at a news conference yesterday in the basement of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross that she could not say why Law did not show up for Mass, the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, John L. Allen Jr., spotted the cardinal dining at Ristorante Cecilia Metella, an upscale hideaway on the outskirts of Rome where high-ranking church officials often go to have discreet conversations.

In Boston, nearly twice as many people showed up to protest as came to worship at the cathedral, although neither gathering was particularly sizable - about 300 outside the church and 150 inside. Law's episcopal throne in the church sat empty, but his face adorned numerous placards wielded by demonstrators with slogans such as ''How can you lead us if you won't even face us?'' and ''Bernard Law, you are fired.''

The homilist at the cathedral, Monsignor William H. Roche, did not refer to the crisis that has Catholics in an uproar, but many priests around the archdiocese did. In Charlestown, the Rev. Robert J. Bowers called from the pulpit for Law to resign, adding his name to a growing list of priests who have taken the extraordinary step of publicly challenging the man to whom they have promised obedience.

More than 50 priests, out of some 600 active in the archdiocese, have signed a letter calling for Law to resign, but the letter will probably be held so the language can be revised before it is sent to Law, according to the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows Church in Sharon and a leader of the Boston Priests' Forum.

Bullock said a number of priests also object to the possibility of a bankruptcy filing by the archdiocese. He called such a proposal, which has already been approved by the archdiocesan finance council, ''blasphemous,'' saying ''it would be outrageous and unbearable - pastorally and theologically and spiritually disastrous.''

The opinions of priests are particularly important because they are traditionally a conservative force, wary of speaking out except in extreme circumstances. They are also the intermediaries between the faithful, increasingly incensed by the crisis, and the church hierarchy.

''Priests are the most significant group because they're the ones Rome is most likely to trust, more than theologians or college administrators or Catholic corporate CEOs,'' said Stephen J. Pope, chairman of the theology department at Boston College. ''This could convince Rome that this crisis is not just a fabrication of the American press.''

Voice of the Faithful, a large organization representing laypeople, said its leadership on Wednesday is expected to ratify a resolution calling for Law to quit. The group is also expected to approve a letter to the pope asking him to appoint a new archbishop of Boston and a letter to Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, asking for his help in persuading the pope to replace Law.

Around the archdiocese, some Catholics who attended Mass expressed fury at the man who leads their church, and many priests added their voices.

''I'm very angry at all the people ... within the church that are acting so abhorrently and the people in authority who excuse them,'' said Paul Moran, 44, an English teacher from Salem who attended Mass at St. Joseph's Church. A priest was removed from the Salem church this week after records were released showing that he was accused of fathering two children with a woman who later died of a drug overdose.

In St. Joseph's Church in Malden, where a former priest stands accused of trading drugs for sex, the Rev. William Minigan said: ''Our leaders have lied to us ... [about what they have] covered up for years. ... We've been betrayed. Our trust has been abandoned.''

Outside the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, protesters chanted ''Law must go. Law must go'' and sang ''We Shall Overcome'' as they circled the cathedral. A small group of women associated with Faithful Voice, a group of conservative Catholics, stood at the door of the cathedral hading out rosary beads and attempting to cheer up worshipers who had to walk through a gantlet of police and demonstrators, some using bullhorns.

Many of the protesters focused their ire on the Massachusetts attorney general, Thomas F. Reilly, chanting ''Indict Law now, throw the bum in jail.''

Christine Hickey of Somerville said she was abused by a priest, who ''took my soul away from me. The essence of my being was destroyed.'' She said prosecuting Law is ''the one way he can be held accountable'' and ''I hope he goes to jail.''

Kathy Dwyer of Braintree, who also says she was abused by a priest, said she is frustrated that politicians and lawmakers aren't stepping forward against Law and the church.

''The deference to the church is astounding,'' she said. ''In Boston, if you're in the inner circle, you're safe. Case closed.''

Reilly, who has launched a criminal investigation into the archdiocese's conduct, has repeatedly suggested he does not believe Law is criminally liable under Massachusetts laws, but he issued a statement yesterday expressing sympathy with the demonstrators.

''We are as disturbed as anyone by what has happened to children and the failure of the church to protect them,'' Reilly said in a statement. ''And we share the frustrations of the victims, members of the laity, and dedicated priests by the slow pace of change.''

Reilly has asked the Legislature to increase the fines for clergy and others who fail to report suspected child abuse, but he said, that ''in the long run, change will not come from civil authorities alone. The most effective change will likely come from within the church itself.''

The church, it appears, is still trying to figure out what to do next. The archdiocesan official who spoke yesterday said the issues facing Boston are multiple and complex and will influence how other dioceses around the nation respond to their own abuse crises.

''This [bankruptcy] is a fairly important issue, for the American church and the Vatican, and the Vatican would want more than a note and a telephone call - they would want a consultation,'' said the official, explaining why Law went to Rome. ''The bankruptcy issue does not just affect the Archdiocese of Boston. It's too big an issue.''

Law's departure may not be imminent, he said.

''I would be surprised if he came back from Rome and said he's leaving,'' the official said. But, ''He is going to go.''

Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose firm, Greenberg Traurig, represents about half of the alleged victims with claims against the archdiocese, said yesterday that he had already called the archdiocese's law firm in an effort to determine what Law was doing in Rome and how it might affect negotiations. MacLeish said the cardinal needs to be back by next week for further depositions in the case of the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, who is accused of molesting several adolescent boys.

Jeffrey A. Newman, another partner in Greenberg Traurig, said Law might be motivated to seek the filing of bankruptcy sooner than expected because it would cut short all legal discovery in the Shanley case, including his upcoming deposition.

Newman and MacLeish said Law probably would be asked to answer questions about his handling of the cases of clergy abuse outlined in last week's release of documents.

Stephen Kurkjian and Michael S. Rosenwald of the Globe Staff and Globe correspondents Jana Benscoter, Katie Copell, and Emma Stickgold contributed to this report.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/9/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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