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Law's words frame new play

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Wary Catholics return to church

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Spotlight Report

  A motorcade carrying Cardinal Bernard Law leaves the tarmac at Newark International Airport after Law's return flight from the Vatican touched down. (Reuters Photo)

'I have no hatred,' Law says

On return to US, cardinal talks of uncertain future

By Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff, 12/15/2002

The flight from Rome had begun its descent into Newark yesterday and Cardinal Bernard F. Law, looking exhausted and sad, said his mission now was to turn his ''thoughts and prayers'' toward his new life.

One day after Pope John Paul II accepted his resignation as archbishop, Law spoke briefly with a Boston Globe reporter aboard his flight. He was asked if a decision had been made on what role he would play in the church after his resignation.

''I honestly do not know,'' he said. ''I need to turn my thoughts and prayers toward figuring that out.''

For a moment, the deep creases in the 71-year-old cardinal's face turned to a soft smile as he added, ''After all, I am still young.''

But for now, he said, ''I will be praying and thinking and reflecting on what has happened.''

The nine-hour Continental Airlines flight touched down in Newark just after 1 p.m.

Law, who as a cardinal travels on a diplomatic passport, was accompanied off the plane by New Jersey Port Authority police. One of the police officers said, ''Good luck, Your Eminence'' as the cardinal went down a set of stairs to the tarmac and into a black Chevrolet Suburban with tinted windows and New Jersey plates. The car drove off into a drizzle, flanked by police vehicles.

It was not clear whether Law would be returning to Boston immediately, but his personal secretary, the Rev. John J. Connolly, who was traveling with him, confirmed that Law would not celebrate Mass today at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in the South End. ''The situation requires that he leave quietly,'' said Connolly.

Law's return to the United States marked the end of a yearlong struggle to salvage his 18-year stewardship of the Boston archdiocese amid a devastating priest sexual abuse scandal. He had not been able to mend what was broken - the trust of parishioners and of many of his own clerics who had come to believe he had failed to protect children from priests who were sexual predators.

He was asked if he held any bad feelings toward the news media or the lay and clerical groups that had voiced outrage at his mishandling of the abuse crisis, and that contributed to the mounting pressure on him to resign.

''I have no hatred in my heart for anybody. I mean that,'' he said.

''I really think that what I have done is best for the church and I have to leave it at that,'' he said. ''I think it is best that I return quietly. My statement issued yesterday will have to speak for itself right now. I hope you understand.''

Only a year ago, Law was one of the brightest stars in the constellation of leadership in the American Catholic church. He began his priestly career in 1961 in a parish in Natchez, Miss., fighting for civil rights. He was named archbishop of Boston in 1984 and was elevated to cardinal the following year. Throughout his career, he worked as a builder of bridges of understanding between Catholics and Jews. More recently, he hoped, had he not been engulfed in scandal, to have contributed to the national dialogue on a possible US war in Iraq.

On the flight yesterday, Law held a set of olive-wood rosary beads and a book titled ''The Threatening Storm: The Case for Invading Iraq.'' Connolly, his personal secretary and confidant throughout the crisis, sat beside him.

At first, Connolly, a big man, gave a fiercely protective look to a Globe reporter who sought comment from Law. Connolly had just orchestrated a successful evasion of a small army of television camera crews staking out the cardinal at the departure lounge of Rome's international airport and desperately seeking comment from the cleric.

Law did not accept an offer from the Globe for a formal interview, but he did talk briefly about the last tumultuous week in Rome and his feeling of great sadness. He consistently reiterated what he had said in a five-paragraph written statement released by the Vatican Press Office on Friday that his offer of resignation ''was motivated by a desire to do what is best for the archdiocese.''

He did not discuss his meeting with the pope or any of the legal proceedings that he still faces. Much of the discussion was about other issues, including the Middle East and, specifically, the possible war in Iraq.

He mentioned a statement that he had crafted at a US Conference of Catholic Bishops meeting in November that outlined the application of the theology of ''just war'' in the current context. Law pointed out that an actual present threat would be required for the United States to fight a just war under Catholic theology.

Asked if he was disappointed that such statements of morality by the church on important questions of the day had been muted by the scandal that has shaken the church, he said, ''Of course I am.''

On board the flight, Law stared out the window, gazing at the snow-capped southern Alps as the plane ascended. Law and Connolly spoke very few words to each other.

Law declined to select a newspaper from a service trolley. The weekend edition of USA Today featured a front-page photo of Law with his head bowed. He selected a comedy from the three in-flight film choices: ''The Adventures of Pluto Nash,'' starring Eddie Murphy. But mostly, the prelate rested, his white hair pressed against a pillow.

Now Law's fight - his struggle to reckon the mistakes he has made and the hurt he has caused - will be an internal one. He will no longer have the pulpit from which to pastor or the platform of the power from which to repair the extensive spiritual and financial damage that the church has suffered through the crisis.

''I think he will be praying a great deal. I think he will be contemplative and very quiet about what has happened,'' said an American priest in Rome who has known Law for many years.

''I cannot imagine what he must be feeling,'' the priest added. ''It is a very sad end for a man who all his life offered great service to the church.''

The Vatican Press Office has not offered any comment on Law's future. Vatican sources said that while Law will remain a cardinal, they believe it will be many months before he is given a new assignment.

His work in the near future, the sources said, would be in answering to several different court orders for testimony in civil cases and a grand jury subpoena served by the Massachusetts attorney general's office, which is looking into the archdiocese's handling of priest sex abuse cases. One US priest estimated that Law may also take time away from the crisis if he is able, and go ''somewhere very quiet to reflect.''

One Vatican official said it was highly unlikely that Law would ever serve ''pastorally'' as a bishop over a diocese. In the corridors of the Vatican, where rumors and predictions are whispered in almost reverential tones, some believe Law is destined to return to Rome, where he would serve in some capacity in one of the ''dicasteries,'' as bureaucratic offices of the Vatican are called.

''I'd ask you to keep me in your prayers,'' Law said yesterday as his journey back to the United States was ending. ''Please do that.''

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/15/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.


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