Cardinal Bernard F. Law quietly slipped away to Rome amid the deepening church abuse scandal, raising speculation that he may be seeking advice on filing for bankruptcy or possibly stepping down.
Boston Archdiocese spokeswoman Donna M. Morrissey acknowledged Sunday that Law was at the Vatican, but she refused to discuss the purpose of his trip.
Published reports in Boston, citing unnamed sources, said Law was in Rome seeking counsel from church officials on two issues: whether the archdiocese should file for Chapter 11 protection, or if Law buffeted by mounting calls for his departure should resign.
An archdiocese financial panel on Wednesday gave Law permission to file for bankruptcy on behalf of the archdiocese. 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 sexual abuse scandal.
It was not known when Law left for Rome, or when he planned to return, although he is scheduled to be deposed in a civil clergy sex abuse suit December 17. On Sunday, he 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 abuse scandal began in his archdiocese this year, but he has deflected repeated calls for his resignation for months. Now, some priests are adding to the calls.
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 Newton parish, praised Law for his leadership, but said the release of damaging internal church files last week 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 a 250-member Boston Priests Forum, said the draft document, which called for 50 signatures by noon Sunday, would require many more to indicate a consensus. Once the document was finished, he would sign it himself, he said.
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 calling for 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.