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Law Makes Second Trip to Vatican as Parishioners

Dec 9, 2002 | Los Angeles Times Outside the stately Cathedral of the Holy Cross on Sunday, hundreds of angry demonstrators heaped vitriol on the church most of them were raised in. Brandishing posters of youthful sexual abuse victims, they spoke of disappointment, betrayal and even criminal complicity on the part of the leaders of this city's Roman Catholic archdiocese. They chanted, alternating peals of “Law must go!” with forceful cries of “Indict Law now, throw the bum out!”

But the leader of Boston's 2.1 million Catholics heard none of the entreaties. Cardinal Bernard Law, a church spokeswoman said Sunday, was at the Vatican. “I can confirm that the cardinal is in Rome,” said Donna Morrissey. She declined to say when the prelate had departed, when he would return or what the nature of his visit was.

It was at least Law's second sudden trip to Rome since calls for his resignation started soon after the clerical sexual abuse scandal erupted last January. In April, Law paid a secret visit to Pope John Paul II to offer his resignation as head of one of the largest archdioceses in the United States. The pontiff urged Law to remain in his post and tough out the crisis.

But with shocking new revelations about clerical misconduct, demands that the cardinal step down dramatically escalated during the past week. A vote by diocesan leaders to authorize the church here to file for bankruptcy also fueled calls for Law's ouster.

Over the weekend, a group of priests drafted a letter urging Law to quit. A copy of the letter, published in The Boston Globe, said: “The priests and the people of Boston have lost confidence in you as their spiritual leader.”

Morrissey said that she had not seen the letter and did not know if it had been delivered to the cardinal. On the second Sunday of Advent, no explanation was offered for Law's absence at the cathedral where he traditionally celebrates Mass.

“I'm very disappointed. I thought Cardinal Law would have the courage to face us,” said Anne Coughlin, who drove down from New Hampshire to attend Mass at the parish she was raised in. When she realized the cardinal would not be present, Coughlin made a sign that said: “How can you lead us if you can't even face us?” Cathedral ushers told her to roll it up and keep it out of view.

The cardinal's abrupt departure for Rome capped a week that racked this already beleaguered archdiocese.

First, thousands of pages of previously secret church personnel documents were released revealing that priests here gave drugs to young parishioners, seduced girls who were studying to become nuns, led double lives with women and, in one case, threw a housekeeper down the stairs. One day later, church finance leaders said the archdiocese could file for bankruptcy to avoid almost 500 sexual abuse lawsuits pending against it. Next, another once-secret file showed that a priest here had fathered two children and failed to seek prompt medical help when their mother suffered a fatal drug overdose in his presence.

The cardinal then informed a group of priests that they could not meet at a parish in suburban Newton, Mass., to discuss fund raising in the face of the abuse crisis. They met anyway, and by Saturday, at least 50 Boston priests reportedly had signed a petition calling for Law's resignation.

The Rev. Walter Cuenin, the pastor at Our Lady Help of Christians parish in Newton, organized Friday's meeting of dozens of priests who question how they can ask for donations when the abuse crisis has seethed for close to a year.

“I think it is pretty clear that the leadership of the bishop is so compromised that he must resign,” Cuenin said. “I don't see how he can continue. It is regrettable, because he has done good things.”

From his pulpit in the vibrant parish of 2,600 families, Cuenin gazed out Sunday at a sanctuary where every pew was filled and supporters stood three deep in the rear of the church. “See, this is what happens when you get banned in Newton,” Cuenin deadpanned.

The church roared with laughter and — in a gesture seldom seen at church on Sundays — gave the priest a standing ovation.

Then Cuenin used his homily to blast “a church that hides behind lawyers and bankruptcy judges.” Catholics in Boston, he said, “are in exile from our real church. We are hurting. We are suffering. We are walking in darkness.”

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