BOSTON — Ireland’s clergy sex abuse scandal erupted last year after two government-ordered reports documented decades of clergy child abuse and a church cover up of the abuse. Four Irish bishops said they’ll resign for not reporting the abuse. Some in Ireland say another Catholic leader should resign — former Boston Archbishop Cardinal Bernard Law.
“To keep Cardinal Bernard Law in the position he holds would suggest the papacy does not understand the principles of accountability,” said Sean O’Conaill, acting coordinator of Voice of the Faithful in Ireland.
O’Conaill said Pope Benedict XVI is expected to release a pastoral letter to Ireland’s four million Catholics after next week’s meeting with the bishops. But O’Connail said the letter is meaningless if Cardinal Law remains in his Vatican position helping to select new bishops.
“Many people find it difficult to understand why if a person was found to be as wanting in his duties, care for children, as Cardinal Bernard Law was — and that was comparable to what happened in Dublin — we find it difficult to understand why such a man would have been promoted,” O’Connail said. “It seems to us to be symbolically strange that he would have that role at all. What Bernard Law did was endanger the lives and souls of children.”
Cardinal Law came to personify the clergy abuse crisis. He was the first member of the Catholic hierarchy shown to have actively covered up clergy abuse. Immediately after the Boston Globe broke the abuse story in 2002, Law refused to step down. But 11 months later, when priests’ records were released by court order showing that Law took elaborate steps to cover for abusers, he stepped down.
“To all those who have suffered from my shortcomings and my mistakes, I once again apologize and from them I beg forgiveness,” Law said at the time. “During these past 11 months, decisions have been made and policies strengthened which ensure the safety of children as the archdiocese moves forward.”
After leaving Boston, Law was named to the prominent position of archpriest of the St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome. He also serves on several Vatican boards and committees and he participated in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict. But he hasn’t been seen in Boston since he left.
“You’ll notice when the pope came to Boston last year, all these American Cardinals from Rome came with the Pope on the plane — but not Cardinal Law,” said Father Walter Cuenin, who was among the group of Boston area priests who first called on Law to step down in response to the clergy abuse crisis. “He could not have been on that plane. So in some ways I think even in Rome they recognize it’s a delicate situation.”
Cuenin, now chaplain at Brandeis University, said having Cardinal Law leave his Vatican post now may be a moot point because his age requires that he relinquish some responsibilities this year.
“I think it was difficult for American Catholics in Boston, so I can understand why the Irish Catholics feel that way,” Cuenin explained. “He’s almost 80 years old, so he automatically will be coming off some of those boards. So I can understand their feelings, but I’m not sure it will make much difference in some ways.”
Some Catholics say it’s not fair to continue to point to Cardinal Law.
“There is a particular animus being manifested toward Cardinal Law,” said Deal Hudson, president of Catholic Advocate and director of InsideCatholic.com, two conservative Catholic Web sites. “When you stand back and look across the United States at all the dioceses and the way this scenario was repeated in so many dioceses and in some cases with even higher levels of abuse cases, I don’t think that animus is fair.”
The Boston Archdiocese did not want to comment about Cardinal Law or the Irish bishops meeting. Last month, the archdiocese released the names of three abusive priests with ties to Ireland who worked in Boston. Archdiocese Vicar General The Very Rev. Richard Erikson said the archdiocese continues to work to improve its efforts to prevent and deal with abuse. “The situation in Ireland is affirmation of the commitment of the Archdiocese to never let our guard down,” he said.
Erikson also said the archdiocese recently created two new offices to deal with those affected by clergy abuse and continues to look into ways to be more transparent and release priest records. “We’re actively engaged in looking at what we’re doing regarding disclosure,” he said. And how best to continue that practice or strengthen it.”
An archdiocese spokeswoman said the names of credibly accused priests would be published by the end of the year. Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley said during her Senate campaign that she would call on the Boston Archdiocese to release the names of all priests from Ireland who worked in Boston. She hasn’t commented on when or if she still plans to do that.