Cardinal Law’s Destructive Symbolism


A handful of Roman Catholic bishops around the world have now resigned either because of their complicity in covering up clerical sexual abuse or because they themselves abused children and teenagers.

It is now time for Cardinal Bernard Francis Law to hand in his resignation as Archpriest of Rome’s venerable Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. He is a triumphalist symbol of all that is wrong in the contemporary Roman Catholic Church: abusive power that not only goes unpunished but finds institutional embellishment and reinforcement in one of the world’s  oldest of old boys’ clubs.

Cardinal Law was the first bishop shown to have actively participated in the cover-up of child molestation. Despite substantial amounts of documentation that demonstrated Bernard Law’s deep involvement in covering up the molestation of thousands of children by priests in the Archdiocese of Boston, Pope John Paul II appointed him to the comfortable and prestigious position at Santa Maria Maggiore. And incredibly, Law remains an influential churchman. Although he is now 78, the old fellow could still reign in Renaissance splendor for many more years. His predecessor at Maria Maggiore held on until he was 82.

As Patrick Fleming observed in the Tablet (8 May 2010), “Every kind of addict, including the sexual addict who abuses children, requires an enabler to continue in his or her illness.”

Cardinal Law  remains a strong symbol of the abusive enabler. And the institutional church continues to honor and rely on him as a member of the congregations for: the Oriental Churches, the Clergy, Divine Worship and Discipline of the Sacraments, Evangelization of Peoples, Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, Catholic Education, Bishops as well as the Pontifical Council for the Family.

Some symbol indeed!

Pope Benedict has stressed the need for a “purification” of the church. Well said. But words need reinforcement in concrete action. Otherwise they are little more than “a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”

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