After nearly a week of talks with senior Vatican officials, Cardinal Bernard F. Law is to meet with Pope John Paul II today to discuss the troubled state of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston and, possibly, his resignation as its leader, Vatican officials said yesterday.
"Everything will be discussed," said one Vatican official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Everything is open."
Several other Vatican officials said that during Law's stay in Rome - a trip he made without public notice - there had been growing speculation at the Vatican that he might soon resign.
One of the officials said that a series of events during the week, including new outrage in Boston and Law's resignation as chairman of Catholic University in Washington, made him doubt the cardinal would continue to lead the archdiocese. "I do believe it's over," that official said.
But Vatican officials said it was unclear whether Law would resign or the pope would ask for, or agree to, such a measure.
The outcome of the cardinal's meeting with the pope, they said, could be a decision on whether the Archdiocese of Boston, besieged by lawsuits from people who say they were sexually abused by Catholic priests, would file for bankruptcy.
Archdiocesan officials raised the bankruptcy possibility as a way for the archdiocese to avoid paying lawsuit settlements.
Law's Rome visit comes as he is under more intense fire in the United States than ever.
Church files released over the past few weeks under a judge's order showed that Law permitted clergymen who had abused children to remain in the ministry late into the 1990s. The files were released to lawyers representing hundreds of people who say they were sexually abused by priests in the archdiocese.
Fifty-eight priests in the archdiocese endorsed a letter this week calling on Law to resign.
On Wednesday, the Catholic lay group Voice of the Faithful, formed in response to the abuse crisis, also called for his resignation. Until recently, it had refrained from personally criticizing Law. Its members met with him last month, before the latest release of church files on abuse cases.
A front-page editorial in the archdiocese's newspaper said yesterday that the church "has been brought to its knees by the scandal" that "has exposed the wretchedness of some of its ministers and the protective culture that permeated the actions of its leaders."
"The humiliation the church in Boston is experiencing is a purification," the editorial in The Pilot continued. It concluded, "Mary, Mother of the Church, pray for us."
A Catholic official here with close ties to the Vatican said last night that there were suggestions of a crisis of confidence in the archdiocese that might prompt Law and the Vatican to consider his resignation.
The official said the priests' letter was particularly important: "If there is a significant number of priests in Boston that are taking that attitude, that can't be ignored by the Holy See."
One Vatican official said there were many people at the Vatican who believed that Law should resign because, the official said, "he has a responsibility here; he made many mistakes."
But the official said it was unclear whether that belief was shared by the church's top bishops and cardinals.
Other Vatican officials also said they were relatively certain that resignation had been among many topics Law had discussed over the past few days with Cardinal Daro Castrillon Hoyos, prefect of the Congregation for Clergy, and Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, prefect of the Congregation for Bishops.
But Vatican officials and prominent Catholics in Rome said there was a range of possible outcomes to Law's meeting with the pope.