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Spotlight Report

Resignation has not ended Law's role in church

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 6/21/2003

ST. LOUIS - They call him archbishop emeritus.

Once, he was a force to be reckoned with in the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, a leading spokesman on foreign policy, abortion, and other matters.

Now, six months after his resignation amidst scandal, Cardinal Bernard F. Law has lost his job, his house, and his vote at the bishops conference, which concludes its semiannual meeting here today. The attorney general in Massachusetts is wrapping up a lengthy criminal investigation into the Archdiocese of Boston under Law's stewardship and that of his predecessors.

But Law's resignation as archbishop of Boston has not ended his career as a leader in the Catholic church.

Law was here in St. Louis, working the crowd of bishops as in the good old days, offering a smile or an arm around the shoulder as he chatted amiably about the issues of the day.

''He looks good and sounds like he always did, and he's very much involved in the deliberations that are going on,'' said Bishop Daniel P. Reilly of Worcester. ''I admire him. He knows who he is, as a man in the church, a cardinal in the church, so he's carrying that role out, continuing his teaching role and so forth. Who knows what the future will be?''

Cardinal Theodore E. McCarrick, archbishop of Washington, also welcomed Law's participation.

''He's a good bishop, a good man, who maybe made mistakes,'' McCarrick said. ''But show me the fellow in there who hasn't made mistakes. I'm certainly not one of them.''

Law has been making an increasing number of quasi-public appearances, joining seven US cardinals at a black-tie dinner in San Francisco on May 2 to help raise money for the Catholic University of America, and showing up May 24 at a Latin Mass in Rome.

He remains an active member of seven Vatican congregations, the departments that make up the church's central bureaucracy. One is the Congregation for Bishops, which screens candidates for bishop, including the next archbishop of Boston. He remains a cardinal-elector, meaning that he can vote in any conclave to choose the next pope, until he turns 80, in November 2011.

''Some Americans thought his resignation was similar to that of a corporate CEO, that once he steps down, he's gone, no more parking pass, no more lunch room privileges, etc.,'' said John L. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. ''It doesn't work like that in the Catholic Church.''

Law appears to be the only bishop who resigned in the scandal last year who is attending the meeting. But he is also the only one who resigned over allegations of mismanagement, while the others resigned after they were accused of personal misconduct.

''The cardinal is no different from former president Clinton or former House speaker Gingrich, for example,'' said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame. ''It's not easy for someone who has been in the public eye at a relatively high level to disappear, cold turkey, behind a cloak of anonymity, away from the cameras, the microphones, and the crowds.

''I have always assumed that, following any resignation, Cardinal Law would not be allowed to languish in some convent in a Washington, D.C., suburb, and that eventually, sooner than later, the Vatican would find something for him to do over there, consistent with his background and experience,'' McBrien said.

Although Law is living at a convent in Maryland, he flew from Boston to St. Louis this week with Bishop Richard G. Lennon, the administrator of the Boston Archdiocese, who was chosen by the pope to step in temporarily when Law resigned Dec. 13. Law and Lennon, neither of whom brought aides, sat in the first row of coach and were escorted off the plane to a car on the tarmac, avoiding the television crew waiting at the gate.

One group of people Law won't talk to are reporters, once a major part of his appearance at these conferences. Thursday night, after recognizing reporters for the Washington Post and Newsday at Lombardo's, a nearby Italian restaurant, Law and his fellow diners left. But Law has been courteous, even as he declined numerous interview requests, including one from the Globe.

''I ran into him yesterday, and he was all interested in genetic food,'' said Rev. Thomas J. Reese, editor of America, a Jesuit weekly. ''He was concerned that the Europeans are pressuring African countries not to accept genetically modified food for refugees and concerned that the refugees might not be getting the food they need.

''I think he wants to have a life after Boston and try and find something he can do to serve the church and the people of God,'' Reese said.

Law's salary and benefits are still paid by the Archdiocese of Boston.

''Cardinal Law, archbishop emeritus of the Archdiocese of Boston, remains a priest of the Archdiocese, [and] as such, he is entitled to the same support from the archdiocese as every other priest,'' said Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, spokesman for the archdiocese. ''He receives the same salary and benefits from the archdiocese as every other priest and bishop.''

Yesterday was a quiet day at the conference, as the bishops met behind closed doors for ''prayerful reflection'' about some of the issues they might want to talk about at a possible plenary council at which bishops and others would discuss the state of the Catholic Church in the United States.

The bishops heard presentations on ''the identity and spirituality of priests and bishop'' from Archbishop Justin F. Rigali of St. Louis, on ''sacramental life and the need for catechesis'' from Bishop Donald W. Wuerl of Pittsburgh, and on ''the role of the laity'' from Cardinal Francis E. George of Chicago.

As the bishops met, so did the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, which began its first national assembly at another downtown St. Louis hotel. At a press conference, the organization singled out for praise Bishop Paul G. Bootkoski of Metuchen, N.J., saying that he is a ''model bishop'' because he has cooperated with prosecutors and civil lawyers, named three victims to a review panel, settled lawsuits, and reached out to victims.

His fellow bishops did not seem eager to talk about Law's new role as one of the 128 retired bishops who have the right to attend meetings of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops in a consultative role. He was welcomed as the first of a group of retired bishops recognized by the conference president, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, as the meeting opened Thursday. Law spoke briefly in public during the Thursday morning session, asking how a proposed document about the role of women in the church related to broader concerns about the role of the laity.

''He's a member of this conference, and he's a member of the college of cardinals,'' said George. Asked what the appropriate role for Law in the church is now, George said, ''Oh, I'm not going to say something about that.''

The Rev. C.J. McCloskey III, director of the Catholic Information Center in Washington, D.C., also welcomed Law's continued involvement.

''I believe he wants to continue to serve the church in any way he can, both nationally and internationally, albeit doing so in a much lower profile,'' McCloskey said. ''Whatever mistakes were made in the past, he remains a man of high intelligence and vast pastoral experience.''

But victims and their advocates were unhappy about the prominence of Law's role.

''Obviously, perceptions and appearances are extremely important at a time when the victim community is in a state of unprecedented despair,'' said Roderick MacLeish Jr., a Boston lawyer who represents many alleged victims of abuse.

''Many of our clients have expressed their disappointment, and this is an understatement, of the images they saw on television of the cardinal and Bishop Lennon flying down to St. Louis together and then being whisked away by a limo on the airport runway,'' MacLeish said. ''It has led to many of our clients asking, in substance: `Has anything changed? Is the man who covered up and enabled ... many of these horrific crimes still the one who is making these decisions?'''

David Clohessy, executive director of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, said: ''No one wants to see Law, or anyone, treated like a leper, but this is a continued slap in the face to victims. He's clearly clinging to every vestige of the power he had.''

The bad news for Law is not over, although his resignation meant a pause of sorts to the stream of revelations about his repeated decisions not to remove abusive priests from ministry. Attorney General Thomas F. Reilly is still wrapping up a lengthy investigation of the archdiocese.

''We've conducted an extensive criminal investigation, and our work is not complete, but we look forward to sharing with the public the outcome,'' said the attorney general's spokeswoman, Ann E. Donlan. Donlan said the investigation will be ''one of the most extensive in the country.''

She reiterated the attorney general's past assertions that ''indictments are unlikely,'' but said the office will provide some kind of public analysis of what transpired in Boston.

Michael Paulson can be reached at mpaulson@globe.com.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 6/21/2003.
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