Bernard Cardinal Law’s trip to Rome will represent, should he and his superiors take significant steps toward replacing him, the first real hope in months for his embattled archdiocese.
It is the hope that many years will pass before protesters again outnumber worshippers 2-1 at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, as they did Sunday morning.
It is the hope of renewed vigor for priests who have been saddled with grief and shame. Significantly, last week’s revolt by several dozen clergy included not just the normal trouble-makers, but a sizable contingent of rank-and-file priests who would just as soon quietly serve their parishes.
And it is the hope a new leader will be able to restore health to an archdiocese wracked by incompetent management.
A wide variety of options lie before Law and the heads of Vatican congregations with whom he is expected to meet this week.
One under serious consideration, according to sources in Rome and here, is for the archdiocese to file for bankruptcy protection. To do so would be disgraceful, a cynical maneuver by a local church leadership that has already been skewered by its penchant for legal shenanigans.
High-placed church officials suggest that if bankruptcy is chosen, Law will likely remain in place for several months to oversee the initial process and absorb the attending negative publicity.
A better option would be for the church to avoid the temptation of bankruptcy and take visible steps toward replacing Law.
The Holy See could do this by naming a coadjutor a number-two bishop who would by definition succeed Law at some point. This would be properly seen by the local faithful as a strong signal that Rome understands how bad things have gotten here.
But naming a coadjutor now would mean choosing who will replace Law, not just that he must be replaced.
Another possibility would be for church leaders to remove Law immediately and appoint an administrator to take his place until selecting a permanent replacement.
It is clearly the Vatican’s role alone to decide how to bring about a change in the leadership in Boston.
But a broad spectrum of Boston’s Catholics – many of them faithful lay people and priests who would never have dared challenge their archbishop before the heart-wrenching revelations of 2002 have made it clear that the time for change has come.