A group of rebellious Roman Catholic priests have delivered a letter demanding that Boston Cardinal Bernard Law resign, saying they have lost confidence in him as a spiritual leader.
The embattled archbishop, meanwhile, met again Tuesday with Vatican officials in Rome. They reportedly were discussing options including filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy as a way to deal with clergy sex-abuse lawsuits that threaten the financial survival of the Archdiocese of Boston.
Law’s possible resignation was also expected to be on the agenda, though a Vatican spokesman said only that the cardinal came to Rome “to inform the Holy See of various aspects of the situation in his diocese in Boston.”
“It is with a heavy heart that we write to request your resignation,” the clerics wrote in the letter signed by 58 of the 500 active priests in the archdiocese.
While the letter praised the “good work” the cardinal has done since he arrived in Boston in 1984, it also said “recent events” made it clear that Law’s position “is so compromised that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston.”
Those “recent events” referred to newly disclosed internal church documents that detailed a pattern of how Law and his top aides transferred abusive priests rather than prevent them from having continued access to children.
It was unclear whether Law was informed of the letter, hand-delivered late Monday to his residence in Boston. Law has been in Rome since last Wednesday and it was unknown when or if he would be returning to Boston.
The Rev. Robert E. Nee, who delivered the letter, said: “The cardinal must recognize he is not in a position any longer to maintain his pastoral role. The sentiment is snowballing among many more priests.”
Law reportedly was considering bankruptcy as the archdiocese faced more than 400 lawsuits filed on behalf of alleged victims of clergy sex abuse. A bankruptcy filing would suspend action on the lawsuits, but would also open the archdiocese’s finances to secular scrutiny.
“For the Catholic Church to really have to lay out in a courtroom all of their finances and how their diocese is run, well that defies imagination,” one unidentified attorney familiar with the situation told the Boston Herald. “You have to remember this is an institution that has dedicated itself to secrecy for the last 1,000 years. I cannot believe that the Vatican will approve of an American court determining what amount of money can be sent to Rome.”
As a result of the suits, the archdiocese has had to turn over under court order thousands of pages of previously secret files on priests to plaintiffs’ attorneys.
Roderick MacLeish Jr., whose law firm represents more than 200 alleged victims, said it would be “unwise” for the archdiocese to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
“Any such decision would have a domino effect across the nation,” MacLeish said.
Church officials in other cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and Cleveland, where clergy personnel files are also being subpoenaed, are closely watching whether the Vatican approves the bankruptcy plan.
Meanwhile, one priest whose case was at the center of the scandal in Boston was expected to make bail and get out of jail “soon,” according to the Middlesex District Attorney’s office.
The Rev. Paul R. Shanley, 71, who is awaiting trial for allegedly raping four boys in Newton in the 1980s, has been held on $300,000 cash bail since his arrest in May in San Diego.
In another development Tuesday, New Hampshire’s attorney general reportedly has agreed to settle its criminal investigation into how the Diocese of Manchester dealt with some 50 priests accused of sexually abusing children over the past 40 years.
The Union-Leader of Manchester reported the agreement was expected to include public disclosure of some church documents and possible adjustments to the diocese’s sexual misconduct policy.
The negotiated settlement comes four days before a special grand jury was to consider bringing criminal charges against the diocese.