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Cardinal Is Backed by Vatican

Church: Boston prelate Law says he went to Rome and talked to the pope. He vows not to resign over sex scandal.

April 17, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Cardinal Bernard Law, in the midst of a massive clerical sexual abuse scandal, disclosed late Tuesday that he made an unannounced trip to Rome over the weekend and discussed resigning with Pope John Paul II but had decided to remain in his job.

Law vowed that "as a result of my stay in Rome, I return home encouraged in my efforts to provide the strongest possible leadership." He apparently discussed quitting with Vatican leaders after he sent a letter Friday to more than 600 Boston-area priests stating that he would remain in his post.

The 70-year-old Law, America's highest-ranking Catholic prelate, has been under fire to resign in the face of charges that for many years he and other church officials allowed pedophiles to work as priests.

Law's secret visit to Rome underscores the Vatican's rapidly growing concern about the sexual abuse problem. Until recently, church officials had directed individual dioceses to deal with it on their own. But over the weekend, in an extraordinary move, the pope summoned America's cardinals to an emergency meeting next week devoted to the topic.

FOR THE RECORD
Los Angeles Times Tuesday April 23, 2002 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 A2 Desk 2 inches; 40 words Type of Material: Correction
Boston cardinal--A story in Section A on Wednesday about Boston Roman Catholic Cardinal Bernard Law visiting the pope inaccurately called Law the highest-ranking cardinal in the U.S. He is the longest-serving. All U.S. cardinals are equal in rank, and each reports directly to the pope.

"The pope and those others with whom I met are very conscious of the gravity of the situation," Law said in a statement faxed to members of the media. "It is clear to me that the primary emphasis of the Holy See, like that of the church in the archdiocese, is upon the protection of children."

The Boston Archdiocese did not returns calls for comment Tuesday night.

Boston College church historian Thomas O'Connor said Law's statement seemed to indicate Law wanted to clarify the Boston situation for the pope. O'Connor said the cardinal's statement suggested the Vatican had no intention of allowing Law to resign.

"My sense is he was told, 'Of course not, please go back and work harder,' " O'Connor said Tuesday.

Since January, church officials here have given prosecutors the names of more than 80 priests suspected of molesting children for more than 40 years. The controversy burst forward after the child molestation conviction in January of former priest John J. Geoghan, who is now in prison.

The scandal escalated with the release last week of documents showing that Law authorized the transfer from Boston to Southern California of another known pedophile, Father Paul Shanley.

Shanley received sick pay from the Boston archdiocese while he worked at St. Ann's parish in San Bernardino, occasionally supervising youth retreats. Until two weeks ago, Shanley lived in the Hillcrest section of San Diego with a companion. He has not been charged with a crime. His whereabouts are unknown.

Law recommended Shanley to California church officials as a priest "in good standing" from the Boston archdiocese.

In his statement, Law said that "for the past few days I have been in Rome to seek counsel and advice."

He continued: "The focus of my meetings was the impact of the Shanley and other sexual abuse cases upon public opinion in general and specifically upon the members of the archdiocese."

Addressing growing demands that he step down, Law declared that "the fact that my resignation has been proposed as necessary was part of my presentation" to the pope.

"I had the opportunity to meet with several officials of the Holy See," Law said. "The Holy Father graciously received me."

Law's disclosure was "very strange," according to Boston University theologian Thomas Groome, author of "What Makes Us Catholic." Groome, like many others in Boston, assumed the cardinal was in his chancery all weekend.

At least two top-ranking U.S. bishops met with the pope last week and returned home with their work apparently complete, Groome noted.

"These fellows were sent home," Groome said Tuesday night. "But maybe [Vatican officials] realized from talking to Law that there really is a crisis and it is more dour and dire than they were willing to realize."

Law canceled a meeting of vicars on Thursday, broke a long-standing custom by not saying Mass at Holy Cross Cathedral on Sunday and had not, until Tuesday, publicly commented on the Vatican's unusual call for a meeting.

Russell Shaw, a former spokesman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Knights of Columbus, saw Law's summons to the Vatican, with the other seven U.S. cardinals, as a show of support.

"I think the pope wants it to be known that he backs Cardinal Law and he wants it also to be known that the cardinal's colleagues in the American hierarchy do as well," Shaw said.

In his statement, Law said he would study the archdiocese's handling of sexual abuse by "reviewing the past in as systematic and comprehensive way as possible, so that legitimate questions which have been raised might be answered."

He added that the diocesean television station and its newspaper would assist in making that record available.

But Roderick MacLeish Jr., the attorney for Gregory Ford, an alleged victim of Shanley who came forward two weeks ago as the documents were made public, decried that line of reasoning.

"It is not for me to decide whether Cardinal Law should return from Rome to face the anger in this community," MacLeish said. "But I do say this: The idea that the story of Paul Shanley will be told through media controlled by the Archdiocese of Boston is quite frankly incomprehensible and pathetic.

"The truth is going to be culled through the criminal and civil justice system," MacLeish said.

Concluding his statement, Law quoted from his own letter on Friday to "brother priests" in the Boston archdiocese.

"My desire," he reiterated, "is to serve this archdiocese and the whole church with every fiber of my being. This I will continue to do as long as God gives me the opportunity."

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