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March 23
Law's words frame new play

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Wary Catholics return to church

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Churches report attendance up

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Dot parish struggles to survive

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Hudson fill-in priest welcomed

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Law prays daily for diocese

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Spotlight Report

Cardinal is called undecided about resignation

Bishops are said to urge he stay while priests want change

By Michael Rezendes and Stephen Kurkjian, Globe Staff, 4/12/2002

Amid widespread speculation about his future, Cardinal Bernard F. Law yesterday was still deciding whether to resign or remain as Boston's archbishop, according to two of the cardinal's advisers.

With local and national television crews camped outside the cardinal's Brighton residence, the advisers said Law met with a group of six bishops and two priests who urged him to remain. The bishops have been arguing that calls for his resignation are generated by news coverage and that Law is the person best suited to handle the sexual abuse crisis that has roiled the archdiocese since January, according to the advisers, who asked that they not be identified.

Law is waiting to speak to Vatican officials, and perhaps Pope John Paul II himself, as he weighs his decision, according to one adviser.

Despite the bishops' advice, one pastor said yesterday that many rank-and-file priests feel otherwise. ''The majority of the priests I've talked to think he can no longer be part of the solution,'' said Rev. Phillip B. Earley, pastor of St. Thomas of Villanova Church in Wilmington.

In another measure of mounting dissatisfaction with Law's stewardship, a Harvard Divinity School student delivered to Law's office a letter and a petition signed by 500 Catholics calling on the cardinal to step down.

The signatures - 400 from local Catholics and 100 from Catholics outside the archdiocese - were gathered by Mary Jo Bane, a member of the parish council at St. William's Church in Dorchester and a professor of public policy and management at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

''We urge you, in a spirit of genuine contrition and penance, to step down from your position,'' the letter says. ''This would convey to Catholics and the world that the institutional church recognizes the wrongs that have been done, is truly sorry, and resolves both to make amends and to reform its ways.''

With some major exceptions, influential Catholics whom Law has turned to for advice have maintained their silence. But some have privately advised Law that he should step down because he has lost his moral authority and has become a hindrance to the church's ability to raise money to finance day-to-day operations and its programs to aid the poor.

''Everyone's waiting to see what he will do and whether he will step down so we can move forward with a growing and revitalized church,'' said Thomas P. O'Neill III, a former lieutenant governor who is a public relations executive. O'Neill was part of a group Law called to the chancery in February to advise him on the burgeoning scandal.

On Wednesday, Joseph Doolin, president of Catholic Charities and a member of Law's cabinet, said the archdiocese's social service agency, the largest in the state, is hurting financially in part because some donors have said they will not give to the agency until Law resigns.

And yesterday, one Catholic official with knowledge of its finances said sentiment for Law's resignation among influential Catholics has grown along with their awareness of the archdiocese's overall financial plight.

The official, who asked that he not be identified, said the damage done to the cardinal's reputation has imperiled fund-raising that supports much of the archdiocese's annual operating budget. The cardinal's Annual Appeal, which normally brings in about $16 million by the end of May, may raise barely half that amount, the official said yesterday.

The chancery's annual operating budget is more than $40 million. If the fund-raising campaign comes up $8 million shy, it would likely mean major cuts in operations, even as the church prepares to sell off properties to pay tens of millions of dollars in legal settlements to those who says they were sexually abused by priests.

The official, echoing concerns of some major contributors, said the falloff is directly attributable to angry donors who have told fund-raisers that their checkbooks will remain closed unless Law steps down.

Adding to the pressure for Law to resign, the officials said, is the expectation that these same donors would move quickly to offset the deficit if the cardinal steps down.

The financial concerns of high church officials were echoed yesterday at the parish level, where priests said the crisis over Law's role in the clergy abuse scandal has shaken their morale and hurt the cardinal's fund-raising efforts.

''There is a combination of very deep anger - rage even - at the abuse and coverup, and enormous sympathy for the victims and what happened to them,'' said the Rev. Robert W. Bullock, a leader of a newly formed association of priests known as the Boston Priests' Forum.

''Wearing clerical clothes is a very different experience than it used to be,'' said Bullock. ''We're the butt of jokes, we're in cartoons, and we're being mocked.''

Bullock, who is also pastor of Our Lady of Sorrows in Sharon, said that in his parish, eight donors have canceled $100,000 in pledges made during the cardinal's Promise for Tomorrow campaign, citing Law's role in the sexual abuse crisis as the reason. The parish had collected $1.2 million in pledges before the cancellations.

Earley, the Wilmington pastor, attributed the growing dissatisfaction among priests to Monday's stunning disclosures that the archdiocese coddled the Rev. Paul R. Shanley for years despite complains that he had molested minors and publicly advocated sexual relations between men and boys.

''A lot of priests felt blindsided by the Shanley papers,'' Earley said. ''People are asking, `What else is out there and how long will it go on for?'''

In a sign that the scandal has reverberated far beyond the Boston archdiocese, Bishop Wilton D. Gregory, the president of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, has been discussing the issue with top Vatican officials in Rome this week.

Gregory, as well as Bishop William S. Skylstad of Spokane, the conference vice president, and Monsignor William P. Fay, the conference general secretary, met with the pope over lunch on Tuesday, and on Wednesday with the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the Vatican agency responsible for handling clergy sexual abuse cases, according to the Catholic News Service.

A spokesman for the US bishops, Monsignor Francis J. Maniscalco, said the trip was a regularly scheduled visit to Rome, but that the topic of clergy sexual abuse was discussed because it is such a prominent issue here.

If Law does decide to resign, church practice would require that he ask Pope John Paul II to accept his resignation before he makes any public announcement. Law could offer his resignation directly to the pope, most likely by telephone or fax, or to the pope's representative in the United States, Apostolic Nuncio Gabriel Montalvo.

Church observers said there could be some debate at the Vatican over whether to accept a Law resignation because of a concern that his departure could have a domino effect, leading to public pressure for other bishops to quit over this issue, and because the Vatican has traditionally been loath to be perceived as bowing to public pressure.

Matt Carroll, Michael Paulson, and Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this article. Michael Rezendes can be reached at Stephen Kurkjian's can be reached at

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