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Law Visits Rome As Scandal Grows

Church Won't Explain Unscheduled Trip

Dec 9, 2002 | Washington Post

The sudden arrival today of Cardinal Bernard F. Law in Rome generated intense speculation here after a week of new revelations in the clergy sexual abuse scandal and renewed calls for his resignation from priests and parishioners.

Donna Morrissey, spokeswoman for the Boston archdiocese, said the cardinal's itinerary is "up in the air," and he has not scheduled a return date to Boston. Law traveled to Rome last July for a previously scheduled meeting of one of several committees of the Holy See on which he serves. But this trip does not appear to be routine: On short notice, Law canceled both his appearance today at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where he typically celebrates Mass, and a trip Monday to attend a board of trustees meeting at Catholic University in Washington.

Morrissey said she did not know whether the nation's senior Roman Catholic prelate initiated the visit or was summoned by Vatican officials. Law, who has not been accused of personal sexual or financial misconduct, has steadfastly refused to resign despite increasing pressure. He is required under church rules to submit his resignation to the pope in 2006, when he turns 75.

Among other scenarios, some observers here speculated he may be talking with church officials about the crisis and his future, or he may be seeking permission for the Boston archdiocese to file for bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11. Law was granted authority last week by the archdiocese's finance council to seek bankruptcy protection to resolve hundreds of lawsuits by alleged victims with a potential cost of more than $100 million.

The trip comes at a time when Boston Catholics are still reeling from the latest developments in the scandal. Last week, thousands of pages of church personnel files detailed allegations of sexual abuse, violence and drug use by local priests protected by church officials, including one who fathered two children and may have been present when their mother died of an overdose in the 1970s. And in an unprecedented step, a group of more than three dozen priests began circulating a draft statement calling for Law's resignation.

"I feel alert to some kind of turning point in this whole crisis," said the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon, Mass., and head of the Boston Priests Forum.

The draft statement praised Law for his leadership but said the release of damaging internal church files makes his resignation "a necessary step." The draft was undertaken by more than 40 priests who initially met privately to consider whether they should continue to participate in the archdiocese's $300 million capital campaign. Boston is at the center of the clergy sexual abuse scandal, and Law has been a focal point of those seeking reform.

The "events of recent months and, in particular, of these last few days, make it clear to us that your position as our bishop is so compromised that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston," the draft statement read.

Bullock said the Boston Priests Forum, a reform group of 250 priests, plans to discuss and, mostly likely, redraft the statement at a meeting Friday.

"I don't think we'll be calling for resignation as much as telling the cardinal that priests have lost confidence," he said. "It's not our job to tell him what to do."

Protesters gathered outside the cathedral in Boston's South End today did not shy away from calling for Law's departure, however.

"The cardinal being there is a hindrance to the voice of victims actually being heard," said Jean Garrity, 43, a member of Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay reform group. "It implies that we are not accepting their stories."

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