Law, who has headed the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston since 1984, has come under increasing pressure to step down as a result of newly revealed church documents that detail his role as protector in the clergy sex abuse scandal. "The cardinal is in Rome now," his spokeswoman, Donna M. Morrissey, confirmed. "I don't have any further information as to his itinerary."
However, reports Monday said topics of discussion in Rome include Law's possible resignation as well as the possibility the archdiocese might file for bankruptcy to deal with an overwhelming financial crisis resulting from hundreds of suits filed by alleged victims of abuse by priests.
Among other things, bankruptcy would set a date after which no new claims of abuse could be filed against the archdiocese, and it would also serve to consolidate more than 400 suits already filed.
Other dioceses in the United States that are facing similar legal problems are closely watching the bankruptcy situation. Law would need Vatican approval in order to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy or to step down as demanded by priests who seldom speak out against their leader.
Some 50 of the 600 active priests in the archdiocese have signed a letter they plan to send to Law this week. The draft read, in part: "The revelations that have come to light a few days ago challenge the credibility of your public statements. The people of this Archdiocese are angry, hurt and in need of authentic spiritual leadership. We believe that despite your good work in the past you are no longer able to provide that leadership. ... The priests and people of Boston have lost confidence in you as their spiritual leader."
The letter also said that recent events, including new disclosures of abusive priests being shifted from parish to parish, "make it clear to us that your position as our bishop is so compromised that it is no longer possible for you to exercise the spiritual leadership required for the church of Boston."
The Rev. Robert W. Bullock, a leader of the Boston Priests' Forum, which was circulating the draft, said the archdiocese needs new leadership. "We cannot build trust and confidence without new leadership," Bullock said.
Stephen J. Pope, chairman of the theology department at Boston College, said the cardinal has "managed to alienate everybody, both clergy and the laity, and that leaves him very isolated and very alone." He said the fact the usually conservative priests were speaking out was especially important because priests "are the most significant group" that the Vatican will listen to.
A lay group formed this year as a result of the growing scandal, the Voice of the Faithful, also formulated a letter it expects its governing council to approve this week. The letter calls on Law "to immediately step aside" because he has "engaged in a pervasive pattern of behavior to conceal and cover up" clergy abuse. James E. Post, president of the group, said the letter shows the "agony" being felt by parishioners and priests.
The alienation was underscored by the anger expressed Sunday by a nearly 300 protesters outside Boston's Cathedral of the Holy Cross, where Law had been scheduled to celebrate Mass. He did not show up. Some protesters carried signs attacking Law as "Bernie the Pimp" and "Criminal Law," and chanted, "Law must go," "Indict Law now, throw the bum in jail."
Protesters demanded that state Attorney General Tom Reilly take action against Law. "Attorney General Reilly, we implore you to investigate very possible avenue within the laws of this state to criminally prosecute the criminals at larges, first and foremost, Bernard Law," Ann Hagan Webb, regional co-coordinator of the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, told the gathering outside the cathedral.
Reilly in the past has said he did not believe the cardinal could be held criminally liable under state law, but has launched a criminal investigation into the case. In a statement Sunday night, Reilly said, he was as "disturbed as anyone by what has happened to children and the failure of the church to protect them." He added, however, that the "most effective change will likely come from within the church itself."
Meanwhile, in New Hampshire, Attorney General Philip T. McLaughlin was expected to ask a grand jury later this week to consider indicting the Manchester diocese under the state's child endangerment law. If indicted, Manchester would be the first diocese in the nation to face criminal charges in a clergy abuse case.