The Boston Globe | Abuse in the Catholic Church


Some at BC say Law unwelcome at graduation

By Patrick Healy and Jenna Russell, Globe Staff, 4/11/2002

Fearing that the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal could cast a pall over graduation ceremonies, a growing number of Boston College officials, faculty, and students are hoping that Cardinal Bernard Law will not speak at or attend the school's commencement this spring.

Law has traditionally offered a benediction at BC's graduation ceremony, but dozens of students and faculty have recently asked the college administration to bar him from this year's graduation, scheduled for May 20. BC officials said yesterday that they believe Law may have a scheduling conflict, but if not, they said they hope that he will bow out of the ceremony. The school has not formally asked that the cardinal not attend.

Officials at other local Catholic colleges said yesterday that Law does not normally take part in their graduations, and they do not expect him to attend or speak this spring. When he has appeared in the past, they said, he has traditionally sat on the dais, offered a benediction, or made other brief remarks.

''The feeling and hope among students and faculty at BC and other schools is that the cardinal would be gracious and bow out of his engagements, so as to avoid protests from disrupting the day's events,'' said an official at one local school who spoke yesterday on condition of anonymity, citing the delicate issue of a Catholic college rebuffing its cardinal from serving in a religious capacity on commencement day.

The ties between Law and BC run especially deep: He is a regular presence on campus, and his residence, offices, and St. John's seminary are only a few blocks down Commonwealth Avenue from the campus.

Yet BC and other Catholic campuses have been roiled by revelations that Law allowed priests to move from parish to parish, despite allegations of sexual abuse against them. Mark Mendola, a senior at BC, yesterday found his Shakespeare class debating the cardinal's role in the scandal and whether he should resign as a result of it. Most seniors in the class felt that, at the very least, it would not be appropriate for Law to speak at commencement.

''Most seniors feel the cardinal no longer represents BC's values,'' Mendola said. ''Most don't want him on the dais in May. I don't think it's appropriate at all for him to attend.''

One BC official, who asked not to be named, said that if Law attended commencement, he would almost certainly be booed by pockets of students and parents gathered in Alumni Stadium or Conte Forum. The image of students booing the church's top regional official is unpalatable, the official said, and the school also wants to respect students' wishes by sending a signal to Law that he is not welcome.

If Law did choose to attend, some BC students would likely organize a formal protest, said Orville Thomas, a junior recently elected vice president of the student government. ''I think it would be appropriate for someone else to take over any duties he might seek in commencement,'' Thomas said. ''Some seniors legitimately don't want him to speak, and it's their commencement.''

BC spokesman John Dunn said Law has spoken at commencement in six of the last 10 years, although he did not do so last year because of a scheduling conflict. Dunn confirmed that some students and faculty have written the administration requesting that Law not attend.

''It's been a longstanding tradition for the cardinal to offer the benediction at Boston College's commencement. The cardinal's office has not yet confirmed his availability,'' Dunn said.

Regis College in Weston, Merrimack College in North Andover, and Boston's Laboure College confirmed that Law is not on their commencement agenda. Officials at Emmanuel College could not be reached Wednesday.

''He is not in any way included,'' Merrimack spokeswoman Kathleen Franzese said. ''We don't usually have him.'' She said the cardinal's most recent appearance at a graduation was in the mid-1990s.

Mary Jane Doherty, an aide to Regis College president Mary Jane England, said it's not customary for Law to be on hand for commencement. Students protested earlier this month when the cardinal came to campus for England's inauguration, an appearance that had been arranged last summer, she said.

''It's a college, so people had different opinions,'' Doherty said, describing the students' silent protest and prayer vigil as thoughtful and designed to ''give voice to the voiceless,'' the victims of abuse by priests.

The inauguration, with its combination of liturgical pomp and conscientious protest, she said, represented ''the best of a Catholic mind.''

Patrick Healy can be reached at

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 4/11/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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