Vatican City Cardinal Bernard Law celebrated Mass in mourning for Pope John Paul II in St. Peter's Basilica on Monday, ignoring protests from victims that his handling of the sex abuse scandal in the U.S. Roman Catholic Church should disqualify him from the honour.
Police broke up a small but symbolic protest staged by two victims of sex abuse at the hands of U.S. Catholic clergy, escorting one of them off St. Peter's Square as she was preparing to distribute fliers.
Several uniformed officers walked Barbara Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, behind barricades set up at the entrance to the square. The officers did not explain why they escorted Ms. Blaine off the piazza, and she had no immediate comment.
Ms. Blaine and another leader of the group brought their campaign for reform to the centre of Catholicism, demanding that Vatican officials bar Cardinal Law from celebrating the important Mass mourning John Paul.
They arrived in Rome hours before Monday's service at St. Peter's Basilica to condemn what they called the Vatican's “hurtful decision” to choose Cardinal Law for the honour. The Mass went ahead without disruption.
“In these incredible days, the pope continues to teach us what it means ... to be a follower of Christ,” Cardinal Law said, reading his homily slowly in Italian. “Our faith has been reinforced.”
He also said Italian, Polish and other pilgrims were inspiring in their huge tribute of love and devotion to John Paul. Nearly three million mourners flooded Rome for his funeral last week.
Cardinal Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in December, 2002, after unsealed court records revealed that he had moved predatory clergy among parishes without alerting parents that their children were at risk. More than 550 people have filed abuse claims in Boston in recent years, and the archdiocese has paid more than $85-million in settlements.
U.S. cardinals generally have refused to comment on Cardinal Law's celebrating one of the nine daily Masses for John Paul, a period of mourning called Novemdiales. Some have said, however, that the Vatican most likely chose him because he leads an important church, not to give him a personal honour.
St. Mary Major is one of four basilicas under direct Vatican jurisdiction.
Still, the assignment gives Cardinal Law a position of influence. In their homilies, cardinals can highlight what they consider key concerns for the church. Observers will be analyzing the remarks for clues as to how the cardinals will vote when they begin meeting April 18 to choose a new pope.
Ms. Blaine said earlier Monday that the group was not opposed to Cardinal Law's participation in the conclave, but that his public role in the papal transition was hurtful.
“We are the sons and daughters of the Catholic family who were raped, sodomized and sexually molested by priests,” she said, holding a photograph of herself as a child around the time she said a priest began molesting her.
“At this time, we should be able to focus on the Holy Father's death, instead of Cardinal Law's prominence.”
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops declined comment. Cardinal Law also has declined to comment through an aide at the Basilica of St. Mary Major in Rome, where the pope had appointed him archpriest last year. He has apologized for his failures.
The Survivors Network, which claims hundreds of members, has spent more than a decade pressing U.S. bishops to acknowledge the scope of molestation in the church. They have picketed parishes, alerted the public to accused priests living in their communities and pressed authorities to prosecute bishops who failed to report abuse.
Asked if the protest was wrong at a time when the church is grieving, Ms. Blaine said bluntly: “The Vatican's decision to have Law celebrate the Mass was inappropriate.”
Some Catholics say the group is too strident and has close ties with lawyers making millions of dollars from suing the church.
The Survivors Network, however, says the overwhelming majority of its members have never sued and are too traumatized to do so. They say they adopted their tactics after bishops promised for years to take action against guilty clergy but never did.