Boston cardinal misses Mass amid protests

Law, a central figure in abuse scandal, meets with advisers and prays

April 15, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

BOSTON - Cardinal Bernard F. Law did not celebrate Mass in the Cathedral of the Holy Cross, his home church, yesterday, as protesters stood outside demanding he resign or even go to jail after years of retaining priests accused of sexual abuse.

It was the first time in memory, parishioners and clergy members said, that the cardinal has missed Sunday Mass at the cathedral when he was not traveling or ill.

Law's absence was a stark symbol of the difficulty he faces after weeks of disclosures about sexual abuse of minors by priests in the Boston Archdiocese, the nation's fourth largest.

"I think if the cardinal can't even show up in his own cathedral, it illustrates his loss of stature and inability to lead the archdiocese," said Mary Jo Bane, a professor of public policy at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, who is a leader of a movement among church members to bring about change.

The large Gothic cathedral, in Boston's South End, was only about a quarter filled, though church officials had brought in three busloads of high school students who were visiting from New Orleans. About three dozen protesters gathered in front of the cathedral, many of them holding placards that would have seemed unthinkable until a few weeks ago in this heavily Catholic city. "Liar," one placard said of the cardinal, the nation's senior Catholic prelate. "Wanted for crimes against humanity," read another.

"Prison for Law," Richard Webb, a physicist from the suburb Wellesley, shouted through a bullhorn. "Prison for the man who wears a red hat."

Rejecting calls that he step down, Law said Friday that he would not resign. His spokeswoman, Donna Morrissey, also said Friday that he would not celebrate Mass yesterday because he would be in seclusion, meeting with advisers and praying. In a letter to his priests, the 71-year-old cardinal said he would stay on "as long as God gives me the opportunity."

Law blamed inadequate record-keeping by the archdiocese for much of the trouble, though more than 800 pages of internal church documents released last week in a lawsuit involving Law and an accused priest, the Rev. Paul R. Shanley, contained myriad warnings about Shanley's conduct.

It is unclear whether Law meant his decision not to resign as a permanent position or whether, as some church leaders here suggested, it was merely an effort to give the Vatican time to decide what to do.

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