VATICAN CITY, April 11 -- Cardinal Bernard F. Law presided over a Mass in mourning for Pope John Paul II on Monday, a few hours after Italian police broke up a peaceful demonstration by two American victims of sex abuse who were protesting the Vatican's choice of Law for the honor.
Barbara Blaine of Chicago, president of the 5,000-member Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, said she flew to Rome because of an "outpouring of outrage in the United States" after the announcement last week that Law would be the only American cardinal to lead one of nine special Masses for the late pope at St. Peter's Basilica.
Cardinal Bernard F. Law leads a mourning Mass for Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, attended by more than 1,000 people. It is one of nine such special Masses.
(Photos Andrea Bruce Woodall -- The Washington Post)
Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in 2002 after a judge unsealed court records showing that he and his subordinates had shuffled abusive priests from parish to parish without telling civil authorities or parishioners.
Vatican officials have said Law was chosen automatically for the Mass because he is head priest of a major church in Rome, the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore.
But documents obtained Monday by The Washington Post from the church's archives show that Law's predecessor as archpriest of Santa Maria Maggiore was not given the same role after the death of the previous pope, John Paul I, in 1978.
Two hours before the Mass, about 50 reporters, photographers and television crew members gathered at the edge of St. Peter's Square, about 200 yards from the basilica, for the victims' protest. Blaine and another member of the Survivors Network, Barbara Dorris, attempted to hand out leaflets calling Law the "poster child of complicit bishops" in the child sex abuse scandal. A dozen Italian police officers ordered the group out from under the shelter of the basilica's colonnade and into a downpour. After the protest resumed in the rain, a police commander directed the participants to move behind a metal barricade. A few minutes later, police moved the jostling knot of protesters, journalists and curious bystanders across a street, finally dispersing the crowd.
The police did not answer questions about why they were breaking up the small protest. Crowd control on the square is handled primarily by Italian civil authorities, not Vatican guards. No force was used by the police, and Blaine continued speaking to reporters as she was ordered to move from place to place.
"We believe that Cardinal Law should not be in a prominent position in the church today. If things had happened differently in the United States, he might well have landed himself in jail," she said.
Law was not available for comment. All Roman Catholic cardinals agreed on Saturday to stop speaking to reporters until after they elect a new pope in a conclave starting April 18.
Before that agreement went into effect, some U.S. cardinals suggested in ecclesiastical language that Vatican officials might be extending a sign of forgiveness toward Law. "We are all Easter people, and Hallelujah is our song," said Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia, who joined Law at the altar on Monday as a concelebrant of the Mass.
Blaine said John Paul II made a "strong start" by declaring in 2002 that there was no place in the priesthood for sexual abusers of children. But she said the victims' group hoped that the next pope would "really put John Paul's words into action."
The protesters did not attempt to disrupt Law's Mass, and he made no mention of the demonstration. In his homily, he praised the pope's longtime aide, Archbishop Stanislaw Dziwisz of Poland, noting that Monday was Dziwisz's Name Day -- the day of the saint for whom he is named, which in church tradition is celebrated like a birthday.
In eulogizing the pope, Law said: "In these incredible days, the pope continues to teach us what it means . . . to be a follower of Christ.
"Our faith and our hope have been reinforced by seeing his face reflected in the millions of young pilgrims from all over the world," he continued.
More than 1,000 people attended the Mass. Joseph Turner, 59, of Santa Fe, N.M., said that he and his wife, Linda, found it very moving and that it made them proud to be Roman Catholics. "We came to participate in the mourning Mass for John Paul II, and so we were not focused on the presider as such," he said. "At the same time, as Americans, we want to say that the bishops should show more backbone in combating priestly abuse."
Law, in particular, "is in far too high a position for someone who's made the serious errors he did," Turner added. "He should have resigned as a cardinal altogether."
Special correspondent Sarah Delaney contributed to this report.