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Cardinal, Under Fire, Skips Mass

Protests: It was the first time in nearly two decades that Boston archbishop Law failed to perform the sacrament at Holy Cross Cathedral.


BOSTON — Pots of lilies abounded Sunday on the altar at Holy Cross Cathedral here. Men in white robes offered the sacraments--a proud, ancient ritual. Worshipers knelt and sang and shared the spirit of Communion.

But at the 11 a.m. Mass, something--or rather, someone--was missing.

In the face of an escalating scandal over clerical sexual abuse, Cardinal Bernard Law--the archbishop of Boston and the highest-ranking Catholic prelate in the U.S.--remained in his chancery. Except when he was out of town or in ill health, his absence Sunday was the first time faithful Catholics here could remember that Law had skipped Mass at his cathedral since coming here in 1984.

"I'm disappointed," said 75-year-old Albert Madden, who is retired. "It broke a long streak of him saying Mass. When the crunch came, he didn't."

Law missed a sanctuary that was less full than usual, with fewer than one-quarter of the pews filled--and that included three busloads of high school students from New Orleans, in town for a band competition.

Los Angeles Times Wednesday April 17, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 43 words Type of Material: Correction
Cardinal Law--A headline for a story in Monday's Section A about Boston's Cardinal Bernard Law incorrectly stated that he had not missed a Mass at Holy Cross Cathedral since 1984. As the story stated, parishioners could not recall his having missed a Mass with the exception of illness or having been out of town.

In his absence, he also bypassed a feisty demonstration outside the hulking Gothic cathedral in the city's South End. Practicing Catholics all, the three dozen men, women and children aimed much of their ire directly at Law, who informed fellow priests Friday that despite new evidence that he was aware of pedophile priests in his archdiocese, he would not step down as cardinal.

Portrait artist Casserine Toussaint, 48, passed out "Bernie bucks" shaped like dollar bills, but with Law's face in the center.

"It buys you 10 years off purgatory," said Toussaint, who also carried a parasol adorned with a sign reading "Bernie, go."

Calling herself a "cradle Catholic, with all the sacraments," Toussaint said it galled her that Law avoided the main Mass. She is outraged by the scandal that has swept the church worldwide since the January child molestation trial and conviction in Boston of defrocked priest John J. Geoghan--but she saves special venom for the cardinal.

"My Catholic faith has been a huge source of consolation to me, all my life," she said. "I am appalled that his toxic narcissism will prevent other people from enjoying what I have enjoyed."

Carrying a poster that read "Bernard Law--Morally Bankrupt--Resign Now," Carole Gunning, 60, said she chose to protest the Mass, rather than attend it, because "I wanted to do something. I feel paralyzed, and I don't want to be passive. So I am here now."

Gunning, an administrator at MIT, said the idea that legions of priests for decades were preying on children "goes right to the core of me."

Since Geoghan was jailed in January, the Boston archdiocese has given prosecutors the names of more than 80 priests suspected of molesting children over 40 years. Dozens of priests around the country have been removed from their parishes this year as hundreds of alleged abuse victims have stepped forward.

But disclosures last week that Law and the Boston archdiocese knowingly shipped a pedophile priest to a new assignment in Southern California added fuel to the growing wrath among Catholics.

"The cover-up is worse than the crime," Gunning said. "The crime was committed by sick priests. Those who took part in the cover-up, they don't have the excuse of being sick."

As Mass was about to begin Sunday, police asked physicist Richard Webb to stop shouting into his bullhorn. Webb gave one last cry of "Prison for Law! Prison for the man who wears the red hat of shame!" and then politely set his loudspeaker aside.

Inside the cathedral, Msgr. Fred Murphy conducted the service in Law's absence. In a lesson about the disciples, Murphy said that in the last week, "particularly in the city here and in the archdiocese, we have all experienced the confusion and disappointment of the disciples. Things have not turned out as we expected. People have disappointed us."

He offered a special prayer, "particularly for families of children who have been abused by clergy."

That acknowledgment was of little comfort to Stephen Lewis, a 44-year-old custodian who said he was abused by a priest in nearby Lynn, Mass., when he was 10 years old.

Until this year--and especially, until the last week--Lewis said he considered himself "Catholic, with a struggling limp." He even sang in the Boston archdiocese papal choir until recently.

"Now, this totally destroys it," Lewis said. "The fact that this man is so arrogant--and it is all about power, power and money."

But Lewis had an admonition.

Nothing positive could be said about the horror of priests abusing children, he conceded. "But right now, the Boston archdiocese could be a model," Lewis said. "We have a window of opportunity here, a unique moment--and a brief one--to hold the administrative Catholic church accountable."

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