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No Abuse Rule Yet, Boston Prelate Says

Church: Cardinal Law tells worshipers that bishops will discuss a policy for priests in June.

April 29, 2002|ELIZABETH MEHREN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOSTON — Making his first public address since his return from an emergency Vatican summit, Cardinal Bernard Law told Sunday worshipers here that a national policy about clerical sexual abuse will not be established before a U.S. bishops meeting in June.

Celebrating Mass at Holy Cross cathedral, Law said: "The focus of that meeting will be the whole question of sexual abuse of minors by clergy, and how the church can respond to that issue."

He stressed that no matter what comes out of the June gathering in Dallas of about 400 U.S. bishops, "we have to have the concurrence of the Holy See," the Vatican.

Law's remarks preceded the liturgical portion of a service that filled fewer than half of the pews in the cavernous cathedral in Boston's South End. Many in the audience had been bused in from local Latino communities; a contingent of nuns and monks also was present. Law's official spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, stood by the door as worshipers using wheelchairs were escorted into the sanctuary.

The cardinal made no reference to the recent disclosure that Father Paul Shanley, a Boston priest charged with abusing young boys for decades, had tried to blackmail the church. Nor did Law touch on rumors that his future in Boston may be tenuous.

He used businesslike terms to describe an unprecedented meeting in Rome last week between Pope John Paul II and the cardinals of the United States.

"What we were able to do was to express our opinions, individually," Law said. "This past week we were not there to make decisions."

He said the cardinals endorsed the goal of "a national set of guidelines for these cases which would have a more binding force."

A similar idea proposed in the early 1980s by a committee of priests and canon lawyers was not pursued by church leaders.

Law made no direct reference to victims in his comments. But in coming forth to offer "prayers for the faithful," Joseph Doolin, head of the diocese's Catholic Charities, focused on men and women who have been molested by priests.

The steady ritual of Mass inside the cathedral contrasted with the scene on the street outside. Since January, when reports in the Boston Globe showed that church officials knew about abuse allegations against former priest John J. Geoghan--yet moved him from parish to parish anyway--the number of protesters has grown each Sunday. Their messages also have become increasingly more pointed.

Standing in an icy rain, several of the more than 60 protesters said they have amassed small collections of signs customized to reflect the newest developments in the church scandal.

"I try to make them appropriate in keeping with the latest statement or faux pas the cardinal makes," said Joyce Cannon, a 57-year-old nurse who said she has missed only one Sunday on the church steps since January. Her placard Sunday read: "Lies, Deception, Manipulation, Control=CULT=Catholic Church."

Two of the youngest protesters were 6-year-old twins from Hopkinton, west of Boston. Carolyn Monahan's sign read: "Law, You Made a Bad Decision--Jesus is Mad At You." Her sister Allison wrote "Mean Priest, Cardinal Law" on her sign.

Allison said she picked the message because "I am a kid. If I was one of those kids who got really hurt by a priest, I would be really sad."

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