Pope prays for merciful judgment for Cardinal Law

  • A moment of the funeral service for late Cardinal Bernard Law, at St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican, Thursday. ap photo

  • The Master of Pontifical Liturgical Ceremonies Guido Marini stands next to the coffin during a funeral service for late Cardinal Bernard Law, at St. Peter's basilica at the Vatican, Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017. Law, who died Wednesday at age 86, resigned in disgrace as archbishop of Boston in 2002 after revelations that he covered up for dozens of priests who raped and sexually molested children, moving them to different parishes without telling parents or police. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia) Gregorio Borgia

  • Boston Roman Catholic Archdiocese Cardinal Sean O'Malley speaks to the media, Wednesday, Dec. 20, 2017, in Braintree, Mass., on the death of Cardinal Bernard Law. The disgraced former Boston archbishop, who epitomized the Catholic Church's failure to protect children from sexually abusive priests, died Wednesday in Rome. He was 86. (AP Photo/Bill Sikes) Bill Sikes

Associated Press
Thursday, December 21, 2017

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis prayed Thursday for a merciful final judgment for Cardinal Bernard Law, presiding over the funeral rites for a man who epitomized the Catholic Church’s failure to protect children from pedophile priests and its arrogance in safeguarding its own reputation at all costs.

In a final blessing at Law’s funeral Mass at the back altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, Francis blessed Law’s coffin with incense and holy water and recited the ritual prayer commending his soul to God.

“May he be given a merciful judgment so that redeemed from death, freed from punishment, reconciled to the Father, carried in the arms of the Good Shepherd, he may deserve to enter fully into everlasting happiness in the company of the eternal King together with all the saints,” Francis said in Latin.

The dean of the college of cardinals, Cardinal Angelo Sodano, celebrated the funeral Mass and eulogized Law without making any mention of the scandal or the fact that he resigned in disgrace as Boston archbishop. Revising history, Sodano said Law had been “called to Rome” to serve as archpriest of the Vatican’s St. Mary Major basilica — a post he took up two years after his 2002 fall from grace in Boston.

Sodano concelebrated the Mass along with 30 other cardinals, including American Cardinals Raymond Burke and James Harvey and the ex-Vatican secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.

In the pews were U.S. Ambassador-designate Callista Gingrich and her husband, Newt, some other members of the diplomatic corps and the Vatican foreign minister, Archbishop Paul Gallagher.

Turnout was otherwise limited, with basilica ushers stacking extra rows of empty seats a few minutes before the Mass began.

Law, who died Wednesday at age 86, left Boston in 2002 after revelations that he covered up for dozens of priests who raped and sexually molested children, moving them to different parishes without telling parents or police.

The scandal, exposed by The Boston Globe and memorialized in the Oscar-winning film “Spotlight,” then spread throughout the U.S. and world, with thousands of people from all continents coming forward in ensuing years with claims their priests sexually abused them when they were children.

St. John Paul II’s decision to promote Law to head St. Mary Major in 2004 reinforced the impression that the Vatican - which had turned a blind eye to abuse for decades - still hadn’t grasped the scale of the problem, the trauma it caused its victims, and the moral credibility the church had lost as a result.

In his homily, Sodano omitted any reference to the scandal, Law’s legacy or the fact that he resigned under unrelenting public pressure — the first head to roll for sexual abuse cover-up in the Catholic Church. Sodano, who was Vatican secretary of state at the time and would have been intimately involved in Law’s fate, insisted that John Paul had “called him to Rome” to serve as archpriest of St. Mary Major, a prestigious position that entitled Law to burial at one of Rome’s most important and beautiful basilicas.

“Today, we want to give a final salute and thank God for giving us a good pastor,” Sodano said. Priests, he said, had a lofty responsibility and sometimes “we can be lacking,” but he prayed that God will “welcome him to eternal paradise.”

Sodano himself has a tainted legacy on the sex abuse front, having been a key supporter of the Rev. Marcial Maciel, the drug-addicted founder of the Legion of Christ religious order who sexually abused his seminarians and fathered three children. It was only after John Paul died and Sodano was sidelined that Pope Benedict XVI ordered Maciel to live a lifetime of “penance and prayer” for his crimes.

Francis has inherited John Paul’s checkered legacy on sex abuse, and has promised “zero tolerance” for priests who rape or molest children. But his own record has been marked by questionable appointments, a reneged proposal to create a Vatican tribunal to prosecute negligent bishops like Law, and giving the issue less urgency than his predecessor, Benedict.