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Law's words frame new play

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Spotlight Report

Law discusses future with pope today

Cardinal again could offer his resignation

By Charles M. Sennott, Globe Staff, 12/13/2002

VATICAN CITY - Cardinal Bernard F. Law was expected to meet with Pope John Paul II today in the pontiff's private residence, Vatican officials said, an encounter that could determine Law's fate as archbishop of Boston.

The Vatican confirmed yesterday that a meeting was being arranged for today and that a formal statement would be released as soon as noon (6 a.m. EST).

The embattled cardinal has conferred this week with Curia officials about a possible resignation and a possible bankruptcy filing for the Boston archdiocese, senior Vatican officials said. But by yesterday Law had not yet formally offered to step down.

Under canon law, only the pope can accept the resignation of a bishop and, the Vatican sources added, Law will probably offer to resign once again today. John Paul reportedly rejected Law's first offer to resign last April. At that time, the 82-year-old pope told Law to persevere and to work to repair the damage done by a crisis still tearing at the fabric of the Catholic Church in the United States.

More documents were released in Boston yesterday on three additional priests who are accused of sexually molesting children.

The head of the Vatican Press Office, Joaquin Navarro-Valls, told reporters who were invited inside the Apostolic Palace yesterday for the day's official audiences with the pope that Law had not met with John Paul by yesterday, but he confirmed that a meeting was planned for today.

Navarro said the Vatican Press Office would release an official statement pertaining to that meeting. Such statements are traditionally distributed at noon.

Law quietly left Boston last Friday morning, the same day that a subpoena was served at his residence demanding that he appear before a Massachusetts grand jury investigating sexual abuse by priests, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Authorities have subpoenaed Law and six bishops who served under him and who were alleged to have been involved in the handling of abuse cases by the archdiocese.

Meanwhile, Voice of the Faithful, a Catholic lay group that says it has more than 25,000 members, has called for Law's ouster, following release this week of a letter signed by 58 priests in the archdiocese, who urged Law to resign.

Last week, hundreds more pages of damaging documents from diocesan files were released. One of them was a translation of a decree from the Vatican dated May 25, 1999, pertaining to the pope's order removing Robert Burns, a convicted pedophile, from the priesthood.

In that document the pope stated that the former priest, who served in Ohio, should leave the areas where his ''condition'' was known, but it also offered his superiors the option of having him stay put as long as it ''will cause no scandal.'' The Vatican has not commented on the document.

One senior Vatican official said that there was an overriding concern in the highest levels of the Vatican that this scandal not affect a historic papacy in which John Paul contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union and promoted interfaith understanding.

When Law left for Rome Friday, pressure was mounting in Boston for his resignation, following a week of yet more disturbing revelations that he and other church leaders had shuttled clergymen accused of pedophilia from parish to parish.

Law has kept out of view of the media this week and has plunged into a hectic schedule of meetings to discuss his future as Boston's archbishop and to consult on the possibility of the archdiocese filing for bankruptcy protection. Navarro confirmed that Law has met with the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Dario Castrillon Hoyos, and with the prefect for the Congregation for Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re.

Those meetings have focused on the legal crisis engulfing the church and the financial crisis resulting from 450 clergy sexual abuse lawsuits.

The Finance Council of the archdiocese gave Law permission last week to file for bankruptcy on behalf of the archdiocese. Such a filing would also require Vatican permission.

The Vatican Press Office has not said what has been covered in this week's meetings. But there was a growing sense in Rome, especially among American priests, that if Law indeed submits his resignation the pope would be more likely to accept it now than he was previously.

''The English-speaking clergy here, those following the reports on the crisis and the way it has deepened in Boston and spread across Ireland and now England, feel there is a growing expectation that Law will offer to resign and that it is more likely this time the pope will accept,'' said a senior Vatican official.

But the official added: ''It is impossible to know what the Holy Father is thinking. He has been consistent in his message that he expects the church and its leadership to be strong and to understand that their work is God's work. So he may well tell Cardinal Law to stay on, to stay strong, and to continue with that work.''

Several knowledgeable canon lawyers laid out what they said were probable scenarios in the event Law offers his resignation.

One possibility is that the pope would again reject the resignation and ask the cardinal to continue to persevere in trying to solve the problem.

Another possible scenario, several canon lawyers agreed, was that the pope would accept Law's resignation but allow the 71-year-old cardinal to return to Boston to make the announcement. Canon lawyers said the Vatican could appoint an apostolic administrator to serve until the pope names a new archbishop.

A third possible scenario was for the pope to name a coadjutor archbishop, essentially a successor who would serve alongside Law with special faculties, meaning that he would be in charge of certain aspects of the archdiocese.

Vatican officials confirmed news reports that such a plan was under consideration in April, but those officials say this option is now considered unlikely. Two American priests here said that a short list of three names was being circulated as possible appointees to coadjutor: Archbishop Edwin F. O'Brien of the Archdiocese for the Military Services; Bishop William E. Lori of the Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn.; and Archbishop Harry J. Flynn of the Archdiocese of Minneapolis-St. Paul.

But most observers agreed that it was unlikely that the pope would move quickly to name a successor. They said this appointment was so important that the Holy See would proceed slowly and deliberately to name the right member of the clergy to serve in the troubled archdiocese if Law steps down.

Walter V. Robinson of the Globe Staff contributed to this report from Boston.

This story ran on page A1 of the Boston Globe on 12/13/2002.
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