The reaction in Boston was so visceral that Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, Cardinal Law’s successor in the archdiocese, held a news conference on Wednesday and took questions from reporters, something he very rarely does.
Wearing a red scull cap and the flowing brown habit of his Franciscan order, the soft-spoken cardinal acknowledged that the death of Cardinal Law at 86, after a long illness, had brought pain to the surface.
“We have anticipated this day, recognizing that it would open a lot of old wounds and cause much pain and anger in those who have suffered so much already,” he said. “We share in their suffering.”
He said Cardinal Law’s personal legacy was broader than the clergy abuse scandal, noting that he had been engaged in the struggle for civil rights and in reaching out to immigrants, the poor and the sick.
“All of us are more than one-dimensional,” Cardinal O’Malley told reporters. “To be realistic, you have to recognize that there was more to this man than his mistakes.”
Asked if he had forgiven Cardinal Law, Cardinal O’Malley said, “Forgiveness is what Christianity is about, and that doesn’t make it easy.” He added: “This is not something that has been solved. Right now, the hurt is still there, the healing is still necessary, and we must all be vigilant.”
The Vatican said that Cardinal Law would be accorded a full, traditional funeral Mass on Thursday at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, presided over by the dean of the College of Cardinals, Angelo Sodano, and including a closing rite by Pope Francis.
Such funerals are standard protocol when a cardinal dies, but the announcement nonetheless infuriated some survivors.
“He is responsible for damaging thousands of children and their families, let alone the people that committed suicide,” Mr. Costello said in an interview. He was abused by a priest at his parish in West Roxbury, Mass. for eight years, from the age of 8. “To publicly have this Mass just means they haven’t learned a damned thing,” he said.
Cardinal O’Malley was asked whether such a funeral was appropriate. “I understand the difficulty with that,” he responded, adding that he would not be attending the service, having just returned from Rome.
He then acknowledged another troubling aspect of Cardinal Law’s career — that after his role in the scandal was revealed, Pope John Paul II made him high priest of one of Rome’s four major churches, the magnificent Basilica of St. Mary Major. The cushy post came with a spacious apartment that was said to be the envy of Vatican officials.
The cardinal also continued to serve on several Vatican committees, including the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which makes recommendations to the pope on appointments. That post let him continue to reward his protégés and influence who became bishops in the United States and elsewhere.
“I think it’s unfortunate that he’s had such a high profile in the life of the church,” Cardinal O’Malley said. These days, he said, “that kind of a decision would not be made, but unfortunately we’re living with the consequences of that.”
Cardinal O’Malley was appointed to take charge and soothe the Boston Archdiocese about six months after Cardinal Law resigned. It was the third diocese he was sent to clean up following a sexual abuse scandal, after those of Fall River, Mass., and Palm Beach, Fla.
In the first year of his papacy, Pope Francis chose Cardinal O’Malley to lead a new initiative, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors. Expectations were high for the commission, which included lay men and women, experts on abuse and two survivors of sexual abuse by priests. The pope gave them the task of finding the best practices for protecting children, and spreading them in the church around the world, including countries where church leaders denied that child abuse had ever occurred.
The commission, now four years old, has proved a disappointment to many church observers and abuse victims. An initiative to create a tribunal to judge and discipline bishops accused of covering up abuse was abandoned, with Pope Francis saying the Vatican already had mechanisms for doing that. The two abuse survivors quit in frustration, the pope has yet to replace them, and the commission has lapsed into inactivity, according to the National Catholic Reporter, an American news outlet.
Cardinal O’Malley defended the commission’s work on Wednesday, saying it was trying to reach people in different parts of the world where sex abuse is not discussed. He said that when he traveled abroad to speak on the issue, he always brought an abuse survivor with him. He said the commission had used funding as leverage to get child protection policies and programs established.
Finally, Cardinal O’Malley was asked whether he believed the Lord welcomed Cardinal Law’s soul into heaven.
“I hope that everyone goes to heaven,” he said. “This is what the mission of the church is. But I am not here to sit in judgment of anybody.”
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