Boston’s embattled Cardinal Bernard F. Law, facing growing calls for his resignation, traveled to Rome for consultations with Roman Catholic Church officials, the Vatican said today.
A brief statement gave no details, but speculation surrounding Law’s unannounced trip amid the deepening clerical sex abuse scandal suggested he may be stepping down, ousted or was seeking advice on a bankruptcy filing for the archdiocese in the face of lawsuits.
“I can confirm the presence of Cardinal Bernard Francis Law in Rome,” said the statement by Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls. “The cardinal came to inform the Holy See of various aspects of the situation in his diocese in Boston.”
The Rev. Christopher Coyne, a Boston church spokesman, said the archdiocese expected to release a statement later today.
“Hopefully, we can answer some of the questions, like what’s being discussed, what’s going on, why is he in Rome, what issues is he actually working through with the Holy Father and with the Curia in Rome,” Coyne said this morning.
The pope is the only church official who can appoint and oust bishops. Even when a bishop decides to resign or retire, he cannot leave his post without the pope’s authorization.
An archdiocese financial panel on Wednesday gave Law permission to file for bankruptcy on behalf of the archdiocese, which faces millions of dollars in claims from sexual abuse victims. He would need permission from the Vatican before doing so.
It’s Law’s second unannounced trip to Rome this year. In April, he met with Pope John Paul II and offered to resign, but came away determined to clean up the clergy sex abuse scandal.
It was not known when Law left for Rome, or when he planned to return, although he is scheduled to answer questions under oath in a clergy sex abuse lawsuit Dec. 17.
On Sunday, Law was spotted by John L. Allen Jr., the Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter, dining at Ristorante Cecilia Metella with Bishop James Harvey, the highest-ranking American on Pope John Paul II’s personal staff.
The trip came just days after the release of several potentially damaging documents about the Boston Archdiocese. The files contained allegations that a priest fathered at least two children; another traded cocaine for sex with boys; and one had sex with teenage girls studying to become nuns.
Law has been the target of heavy criticism since the nationwide abuse crisis began in his archdiocese this year, but he has deflected repeated calls for his resignation. Now, some priests have joined in asking him to step down.
Boston-area priests have been circulating a draft statement calling for Law’s resignation. The petition, which originated at a gathering of priests at a suburban Boston parish, praised Law for his leadership but said the release of the latest round of church files makes his resignation “a necessary step.”
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 petition reads.
The Rev. Robert W. Bullock, the head of the 250-member Boston Priests Forum, said once the document was finished, he would sign it himself.
Boston Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey said she could not comment on the petition because she had not seen it.
James Post, president of the victims’ advocacy group Voice of the Faithful, has sent a proposed resolution to the lay Catholic group’s governing council, also demanding Law’s resignation. The resolution will move forward if Law does not resign by the council’s next meeting Wednesday, Post said.
On Sunday, an estimated 400 protesters gathered at Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where Law typically celebrates Mass.
“[Law’s] presence here is hindering the ability of the victims to come out. He is the real voice of dissent here. He is the one flouting Catholic teachings time and again,” said Jean Garrity, 43, a member of the Voice of the Faithful.