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Spotlight Report

New assignment for Law anticipated

Cardinal visits Vatican for meeting with pope

By Michael Paulson, Globe Staff, 11/22/2003

Cardinal Bernard F. Law met yesterday in Rome with Pope John Paul II, nearly a year after Law stepped down as archbishop of Boston and as some church-watchers say they expect Law to get a new assignment from the church.

Law now officially resides at a convent in Maryland, but in recent weeks he has been seen more frequently in Rome than in the United States. Last week, for the first time in years, Law did not attend a semiannual meeting of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Vatican officials offered no explanation for the Vatican visit, other than announcing that Law was among three prelates granted an audience by the pope yesterday. The last time the Vatican made such an announcement regarding Law was Dec. 13, the day the pope accepted his resignation as archbishop of Boston. Law resigned after 11 months of criticism for his failure to remove sexually abusive priests from ministry.

A spokesman for the Archdiocese of Boston, where Law has the title archbishop emeritus, said he had no details of the purpose of the meeting.

"We have no idea," said the spokesman, the Rev. Christopher J. Coyne.

A spokesman for the US Conference of Catholic Bishops also said he had no information.

"I have no idea about this particular meeting, but Cardinal Law remains a cardinal and serves the Holy See in a number of ways," said the spokesman, Monsignor Francis J. Maniscalco.

Church watchers said the meeting is unusual and could portend an appointment for Law.

"Cardinal Law remains in the pope's and the Vatican's good graces, notwithstanding the scandal he left behind in Boston," said the Rev. Richard P. McBrien, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame. "I have assumed from the beginning that Cardinal Law would be given a Vatican post, perhaps one involving diplomatic service. . . . Regardless of what many people in Boston and the US may have thought, Cardinal Law is not going to remain on the ecclesiastical shelf."

Although he no longer oversees a diocese, Law, who turned 72 on Nov. 4, remains active in the College of Cardinals. He is a cardinal-elector, entitled to vote in the election of the next pope, until his 80th birthday, and he serves on seven Vatican congregations, which are the agencies that oversee the global church. Among his assignments is the Congregation for Bishops, which recommends appointments of new bishops around the world.

"It is somewhat unusual that, without any ostensible reason, a cardinal who has resigned would be received by the pope," said John L. Allen Jr., Vatican correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter. "This could mean he's going to get some kind of job here, or it could have been the pope just wanted to see how he's doing."

Law has made several appearances in Rome since his resignation. This week, he attended the funeral Mass for 19 Italians killed in a truck bombing in Iraq.

Last month, Law was in Rome for the celebration of the 25th anniversary of John Paul II's pontificate.

By contrast, Law has rarely been spotted in Boston or Washington since his resignation, although he has spent time in both cities.

In July, he skipped the installation of his successor, Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, but last month he attended the installation of Archbishop Justin F. Rigali in Philadelphia.

Law's home base is a small convent of the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma in Clinton, Md., where he serves as chaplain. Over the last year he has made one public appearance in Washington, attending an August memorial Mass in honor of comedian Bob Hope in the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.

"He lives here, but he travels a lot," said Susan Gibbs, spokeswoman for the Archdiocese of Washington.

Michael Paulson can be reached at

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