As speculation swirled around the abrupt departure of Cardinal Bernard Law for Rome, an attorney representing half of the 450 plaintiffs claiming they were sexually abused by priests said Monday that many of his clients are ready to settle out of court if the archdiocese pledges to end its threat of bankruptcy.
”Some of victims now feel they can settle,” Roderick MacLeish Jr. said as his firm released 1,800 more pages of church records detailing cases of sexually abusive priests. ”As horrendous as the files have been, a number of victims now feel vindicated by the response. For a vast number a settlement is now achievable.”
MacLeish’s offer came as Boston’s legal and religious communities braced for news out of the Vatican, where Law has been since the weekend.
The embattled cardinal went to Rome after canceling a series of meetings this week. The sudden trip came after the release of internal archdiocese files that documented cases where Law allowed priests to remain in the ministry long after he knew of allegations that they had sexually abused minors and in some cases lived with women and fathered children.
Law also came under criticism when the archdiocese announced that its finance committee had given him permission to seek bankruptcy protection from the hundreds of lawsuits claiming sexual abuse. That threat has accelerated court action on the lawsuits and renewed calls for his resignation by victims’ advocates.
Vatican officials offered few details on why Law was in Rome. Sources said he was to meet with Pope John Paul II sometime this week. ”The cardinal came to inform the Holy See of various aspects of the situation in his archdiocese in Boston,” Vatican spokesman Joaquin Navarro-Valls said in a brief statement.
The statement did little to quash speculation on both sides of the Atlantic about Law’s future. One well-placed Vatican source said Law, 71, could be reassigned to a post within the Vatican, where he could serve for four years before he reached retirement age.
Another theory under discussion by church experts suggests that the pope would name another bishop to a rarely used role of coadjutor to the Boston diocese. The coadjutor would work alongside Law in efforts to end the church scandal and then assume the role as Boston archbishop. Dioceses in Dallas, Tucson and Colorado Springs, Colo., have coadjutors.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, editor of the Jesuit magazine America, said such arrangements are tricky.
”It has to be spelled out who has authority over what and who has the final say,” he said. ”If a co-adjutor has power over the clergy and the money that’s an awful lot of territory for decisions.”