David Randolph Smith

The Pope's Cardinal Sin


(AP Photo)

  • Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned in disgrace from the archdiocese of Boston due to his role in a sexual abuse scandal that badly damaged the Catholic Church nationwide, has been chosen by his fellow cardinals to preside at one of the most prominent Masses to be offered for the late Pope John Paul II. Vatican Gives Cardinal Law Role of Honor (AP, April 8, 2005).
  • 4/5/05: Boston's Cardinal Law, having fled U.S. jurisdiction to Rome in the aftermath of the priest sexual abuse scandal, will now have a vote in deciding the new pope. Christopher Hitchens writes in "Papal Power John Paul II's Other Legacy" (Slate, 4/1/05): "[I]t has been conclusively established that the Vatican itself—including his holiness—was a part of the coverup and obstruction of justice that allowed the child-rape scandal to continue for so long." Hitchens argues:
    • "A few years ago, it seemed quite probable that Cardinal Bernard Law of Boston would have to face trial for his appalling collusion in the child-rape racket that his diocese had been running. The man had knowingly reassigned dangerous and sadistic criminals to positions where they would be able to exploit the defenseless. He had withheld evidence and made himself an accomplice, before and after the fact, in the one offense that people of all faiths and of none have most united in condemning. (Since I have more than once criticized Maureen Dowd in this space, I should say now that I think she put it best of all. A church that has allowed no latitude in its teachings on masturbation, premarital sex, birth control, and divorce suddenly asks for understanding and "wiggle room" for the most revolting crime on the books.) Anyway, Cardinal Law isn't going to face a court, now. He has fled the jurisdiction and lives in Rome, where a sinecure at the Vatican has been found for him. (Actually not that much of a sinecure: As archpriest of the Rome Basilica of St. Mary Major, he also sits on two boards supervising priestly discipline—yes!—and the appointment of diocesan bishops.) Even before this, he visited Rome on at least one occasion to discuss whether or not the church should obey American law."
  • The continued sheltering of Cardinal Law is an affront to law, justice and the honest faith of Catholics.That he was appointed to a position in Rome under direct Vatican supervision is deeply troubling. Although Cardinal Law likely did not face criminal charges, the potential civil liability was significant. I had the privilege of working with Louisville, KY attorney Bill McMurry on the Paducah radiation cases when he decided to take on the clergy sexual abuse cases in Kentucky. He was resolute in his belief that the evidence showed the Vatican and leaders of the Roman Catholic Church orchestrated a cover-up of priests who molested thousands of American children.
    • McMurry represented 243 victims, reached a $25.7 million settlement with the Archdiocese of Louisville and then filed suit against the Vatican , saying:"This lawsuit is designed to lay the responsibility for all childhood sexual abuse committed by priests in America at the feet of the responsible party, and that's the Vatican, McMurry said in an interview with The Courier-Journal."
    • The Tennessee Supreme Court recently upheld the rights of victims to sue the Catholic Diocese of Nashville for sexual abuse by former priest Edward McKeown. Nashville attorney John Day is representing the plaintiffs in the suit for reckless miscconduct.
    • A report by the Massachusetts Attorney General concluded: "The widespread sexual abuse of children in the Archdiocese of Boston was due to an institutional acceptance of abuse and a massive and pervasive failure of leadership."

So what to do? Here I agree with Christoper Hitchen: "But we cannot possibly let the case of Cardinal Law slide. And here the remedy is in the hands of American Catholics. They have had the guts to defy the papacy, in essence, when it comes to birth control. If they don't want to be thought compromised, they can protest at the sheltering of this vile man by the Holy See. But when did you last read of a protest like that? Will any obituary in this week of piety even allude to the situation? Of course not." There is an infallible (if you will) and tragic flaw in Pope John Paul II's adamant restriction of "yes men" bishop appointments to "priests who must have been seen to be absolutely opposed to masturbation, pre-marital sex, birth control, including condoms to prevent AIDS, abortion, divorce, homosexual relations, married priests, [and] female priests" Thomas Cahill, "The Price of Infallibility" (New York Times, April 5, 2005), while looking askance at sexual abuse of minors by priests. See "Church Leaders Rarely Mention Sexual Abuse" (Guardian, April 5, 2005).