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Law shows he’s still a hardliner on doctrine during Toronto appearance


If anyone thought that months of unrelenting pressure related to the sex abuse scandals would soften Boston Cardinal Bernard Law’s tough doctrinal line, some 600 young people who followed him to Toronto learned otherwise July 27.

The youth, in turn, gave him a rousing show of support, though a few were obviously not ready to join the pro-Law chorus.

During a catechetical session with Boston youth taking part in the July 23-30 World Youth Day festival, Law did not discuss the upheaval that has led to wide calls for his resignation. But he did address questions on homosexuality and women priests, and he did not deviate a whit from his familiar conservative stands.

Law was asked how to put church teaching on homosexuality into action.

“We can’t do things that seem to confirm a public act that is in defiance of the teaching of Jesus and the church,” he said.

“It would be inappropriate to support any organized efforts to say it doesn’t make any difference, that it’s a matter of personal choice,” Law told the young people. “Our choices have to be in line with God’s choices.”

“We’re counter-cultural on this,” Law added. “This is not what the rich and powerful are saying.”

The session with Boston youth took place at St. Benedict’s parish on the outskirts of Toronto, far from the downtown sites where most World Youth Day events took place.

When Law walked in, the young people, who tended to be drawn from the ranks of the most committed Catholic families, exploded into applause, giving their cardinal a standing ovation. They clapped, cheered, and pounded the wooden pews. They then broke into chants of “Cardinal Law, Cardinal Law.”

Louis Merosne, 17, rose and told Law that he wanted to thank him for being a good father to the archdiocese.

“I was thinking of all the problems he’s had,” Merosne told NCR afterwards. “He is doing a good job as cardinal, especially under such pressure.”

Perhaps buoyed by the positive energy, Law seemed more upbeat and relaxed than he has appeared in months.

P.J. Davis, 16, asked Law about women priests.

“What do you think my answer is going to be?” Law joked.

“It’s not that I don’t think they should be ordained, but that they can’t be,” he said. “Jesus established this order for the priesthood and it is the unbroken tradition of the church of both West and East.”

“The priest is in his ministry an icon of Christ. He serves in the person of Christ, who happens to have been a male child,” Law said. He then speculated that perhaps God arranged things this way to help the male become “more peaceful, less aggressive.”

The fact that female figures such as Virgin Mary, St. Catherine, and St. Térèse of Lisieux were not priests, he said did not diminish their “prophetic role” in the church.

In any event, Law said, the teaching will stay the way it is.

“Some people think this will change under the next pope,” Law said. “It’s not going to happen. … To think in these terms is to deceive oneself and to waste one’s time and energy.”

Law acknowledged that some Catholic theologians challenge the ban on women priests, but suggested that this isn’t their job.

“The work of theology is not to set itself against the faith of the church, but to take that faith as a starting point,” he said.

Yet Law good not entirely escape the shadow of his recent troubles, even here in Toronto.

“I can’t stand hypocrites,” said Michael, 19, a Boston youth who asked that his last name not be cited. He chose to stand outside the church, with a handful of other delegates, in a gentle rain when Law arrived.

“He preaches compassion and justice, but has done nothing but dodge and cover up,” he said of Law. “If he’s so concerned with young people, why was he putting those guys back into parishes?” he asked, referring to priests who were reassigned by Law after sexually abusing children.

Asked if he felt Law should resign, Michael hesitated, then replied: “He should be shunted off to Rome and given some cozy post. Let him stay there. We need some fresh blood.”

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR’s Vatican correspondent. His e-mail address is jallen@natcath.org.

National Catholic Reporter, August 16, 2002