ROME, April 10 -- American victims of sexual abuse by priests said Sunday that the Vatican was "rubbing salt into our wounds" by honoring Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who was designated to celebrate a special Mass of mourning for Pope John Paul II on Monday.
Leaders of a U.S. victims' group flew from Chicago to Rome on Sunday to protest the high-profile role given to Law, who was forced to resign as archbishop of Boston in December 2002 after court records showed that he had knowingly transferred sexual abusers from parish to parish without informing civil authorities or the public.
Cardinal Bernard F. Law, who resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 because of his involvement in a sex abuse scandal, will give one of nine eulogies that traditionally take place between the pope's funeral and the conclave that will elect his successor. Law is now archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
(Guido Nicolini -- Reuters)
"It feels like Cardinal Law is exploiting the pope's death for his own self-aggrandizing rehabilitation," said David Clohessy, executive director of the 5,000-member Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests. "It is just rubbing salt into our wounds and the wounds of caring Catholics."
The protesters have set up a clash of two worlds: the American culture of open demonstrations, sharp words and publicity-seeking, and the Vatican sphere of discretion, indirection and, this week at least, enforced silence of its top leadership.
Members of the victims' group plan to hand out leaflets explaining why Law is a controversial figure in the United States. Clohessy said they would not interrupt the Mass.
Cardinals from around the world are meeting daily in the run-up to electing a successor to John Paul. The vote will take place under strict secrecy in a conclave in the Sistine Chapel that is scheduled to begin April 18. Although 117 cardinals under the age of 80 are eligible to vote, two are ill, bringing the expected number of electors to 115.
On Saturday, the cardinals decided at the behest of Joseph Ratzinger of Germany, the dean of the College of Cardinals, to stop talking to the press nine days before the conclave.
With the cardinals muzzled, the public relations field has been left to the sex abuse victims, who are outraged that Law is celebrating the high-profile Mass and giving one of nine eulogies that traditionally take place between the pope's funeral and the conclave. Law is the only American named to give a eulogy.
Last week, other U.S. cardinals played down Law's appearance, saying that it was an automatic consequence of his position as archpriest of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, an honorary job that John Paul gave him after he resigned as Boston's archbishop.
Barbara Blaine, president of the victims' group, said by telephone before boarding a flight to Rome that "this is just the wrong time to be putting Cardinal Law out there. He is the poster child for the sex abuse scandal."
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops reported in February that 5,148 priests have been credibly accused since 1950 of sexually molesting 11,750 minors. More than 700 priests have been removed from ministry because of the scandal, which has cost the church about $1 billion in legal settlements and related fees.
In the view of some Vatican officials, the scandal was exaggerated. Cardinal Oscar Rodriguez Maradiaga of Honduras, who is widely mentioned as a candidate for pope, said in 2002 that the U.S. media's treatment of the issue amounted to persecution of the church and reminded him "of the times of Diocletian and Nero and, more recently, Stalin and Hitler."
Blaine said she did not know whether the Vatican was offering forgiveness to Law. "What we do know is that, number one, Cardinal Law should not be asked to have this honor. Number two, when he was asked, he should have turned it down. And number three, the U.S. cardinals should have intervened and prevented this from happening," she said.
Respecting their vow of silence, the U.S. cardinals declined to comment on the protest.
Cardinal Camillo Ruini, the late pope's deputy as bishop of Rome, spoke at a Sunday memorial Mass for John Paul and tried to reduce speculation about who will be elected.
"Let's not be uselessly and all too humanly curious to know who he is ahead of time," Ruini said at St. Peter's Basilica.
The nine eulogies that are delivered in the days leading to the conclave are traditional vehicles for agenda-setting. By delivering one, Ruini could do what was forbidden to others: speak his mind in public. Vatican watchers have consistently mentioned Ruini, 74, as a candidate to succeed John Paul.
On Sunday, Ruini extolled some qualities of the late pope that he would like to see emulated by the next leader of the 1.1 billion-member church. In particular, he focused on John Paul's role as local pastor and global voice.
Sometimes, Ruini appeared to be talking about himself. He praised John Paul's visits to Roman parishes -- visits in which Ruini often took part. "I personally cannot forget the insistence, not to say anxiousness, with which he would ask me, 'When are we going to visit the next parish?' " Ruini said.
The late pope was not an ivory-tower figure, but someone willing to go and mingle with "men of the earth and sinners," Ruini added.
Ruini also praised the pope's global role, which he described as promotion of dialogue between peoples, religions and nations. John Paul had helped reduce the danger of a conflict with Islam, he added.