The Return of Cardinal Bernard Law

What does the Lord require of thee but . . . to walk humbly with thy God.

The Holy Bible, Micah

In an era where tolerance of sexual assaults by those whom one supervises is the norm rather than the exception, it is still possible to entertain surprise. And the biggest surprise of all came on May 27, 2004. On that date it was announced that one supervisor was being richly rewarded notwithstanding outrageous tolerance of sexual transgression by subordinates. On May 27 it was announced that Cardinal Bernard F. Law, formerly of Boston, had been given a wonderful new job by none other than the Lord’s representative on earth, Pope John Paul II.

During Cardinal Law’s tenure, lots of priests under his supervision engaged in inappropriate conduct with young children. Cardinal Law was not present when the offenses took place and the Lord did not see fit to let him know what was going on. Other people did but he didn’t take them seriously. By 2002, things had gotten fairly unpleasant for him in Boston and in December of that year he tendered his resignation as Cardinal and moved out of the $20 million three story church-owned house built in the 1920s in which he’d been living humbly as befits a man of the cloth.

Following his resignation he went on a retreat from which he could contemplate the injustice of being blamed for others’ sexual misconduct. He had plenty to contemplate having been named in more than 500 lawsuits filed by people claiming they were abuse victims of priestly abuse. He contemplated on a full stomach since, according to Rev. Christopher J. Coyne, a spokesman for the Boston archdiocese: “He receives the same salary and benefits from the archdiocese as every other priest and bishop.”

At the conclusion of the retreat Cardinal Law went to serve as chaplain to the Sisters of Mercy of Alma in Clinton, Md. That chaplaincy is coming to an end. The Pope has now decided to reward him for his faithful service by elevating him once again.

On May 27 it was announced that Cardinal Law was being given the post of archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica. The basilica is one of the four most important basilicas in Rome. According to a Vatican spokesman Cardinal Law “will be in charge of the administration of the priests and anything related to the basilica.” The official went on to explain, enigmatically, that the post “is not a position of power.” That may be meant to insulate the Cardinal from any future lawsuits if it turns out that the priests he administers engage in the kind of conduct he failed to notice that got him in so much trouble in Boston.

Cardinal Law succeeds Cardinal Carlo Furno, a cleric with extravagant tastes. The apartment occupied by Cardinal Furno and soon to be occupied by Cardinal Law is described as palatial. A former Vatican official said: “It’s the classical Roman apartment with frescoes on the wall.” He said that Cardinal Furno had paid for costly renovations which presumably remain with the new resident. Cardinal Law’s old home in Boston is being sold by the church in order to help pay the victims of Cardinal Law’s inadequate supervision. Cardinal Law will live in opulent surroundings in Rome far from unpleasant reminders of his past transgressions. His successor in Boston will live in more modest quarters.

Cardinal Furno had a monthly stipend of $12,000 a month. Cardinal Law will probably get a similar amount thus enabling him to live humbly yet well. While serving as the Sisters’ chaplain he reported to the local bishop. In his new position his only supervisor, other than the Lord, (who has not done a particularly good job up to now) will be the Pope (who has not done a much better job).

Those representing the victims of the abuse tolerated by the Cardinal are not enthusiastic about his new appointment. Amitchell Garabedian represents more than 130 victims of sexual abuse by priests. Commenting on the Cardinal’s new job and home he said: “He apparently is being transferred to a position that is comfortable and appears to be some sort of reward. The Vatican either doesn’t understand the problem of clergy sex abuse, or it doesn’t care.” David Gibson, author of “The coming Catholic Church” said: “They’re just cleaning up the mess in Boston and closing parishes, and he’s getting the ultimate golden parachute. He’s getting a beautiful apartment in Rome in one of the four major basilicas in Christendom.” Messrs. Garabedian and Gibson don’t understand that in this society that’s how we deal with folks who can’t supervise the improper sexual conduct of those beneath them. They’re not alone.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI is a Boulder, Colorado lawyer. His column appears weekly in the Daily Camera. He can be reached at:


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