Cover story -- Church in transition
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Issue Date:  April 22, 2005

Vatican: 'It's forgiveness.'
Victims: 'It's more pain.'


If the continuing calls for Pope John Paul II’s sainthood have provided a testament of his enduring charisma, a memorial Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica April 11 served as a harbinger of the challenges facing his successor.

Cardinal Bernard Law, former Boston archbishop, celebrated one of nine memorial Masses for Pope John Paul II, drawing members of an American advocacy group representing victims of clergy abuse to the basilica to protest his role.

Leaders of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) arrived under the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square bearing informational pamphlets and photos of their abusers and were greeted by a throng of rowdy paparazzi. The ensuing scrum prompted police to relocate the delegation across the street from the square, before escorting them into the basilica where they attended a portion of the Mass.

“This isn’t about punishing Cardinal Law,” said Barbara Blaine, founder of the 5,000-member group. “It’s just that his presence in such a position brings about more pain and suffering.”

When Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002, many Americans had the impression that this terminated his leadership in the church. In fact, it simply meant that he was no longer in charge of the church in Boston; he continues to be a cardinal in good standing, with, among other things, the right to cast a vote for the next pope.

He also continues to serve as a full member of several influential Vatican congregations and councils. As a member of the Congregation for Bishops, for example, Law is in a position to influence the appointment of bishops to the American church. On the Congregation for Education, Law will help guide policy on the apostolic visitation of American seminaries, which was triggered by the crisis of which Law has become the leading symbol.

Fr. Jacob Srampickal, a professor of communications at the Pontifical Gregorian University, said the pervasiveness of abuse cases in the U.S. demonstrated a need for more dialogue between the Vatican and local dioceses. He was critical, however, of the ongoing media scrutiny.

“The media has to understand that this is clearly a gesture of forgiveness toward a man who has suffered, not the honoring of a criminal,” Srampickal said of Law’s prominence in Rome.

“Catholic teaching is that to have forgiveness you have to have justice. That hasn’t happened yet.” Blaine said, minutes before the memorial Mass began.

Law resigned from the Boston archdiocese in 2002 under pressure following the release of court records showing that he had permitted priests guilty of child sex abuse to change parishes without informing the public. Law was subsequently designated as archpriest of St. Mary Major, Rome’s oldest and most prominent Marian basilica. His designation as the celebrant of the fourth day of John Paul II’s official mourning is a privilege traditionally given to archpriests who head Rome’s major basilicas.

National Catholic Reporter, April 22, 2005

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