Criminal Cardinal Participates in Pope Funeral Rites

The New York Times reports that Cardinal Bernard Law, forced to resign for harboring child rapist priests, was one of nine cardinals chosen to preside over funeral masses for Pope John Paul II.

Cardinal Law, Ousted in U.S. Scandal, Is Given a Role in Rites (rss)

Cardinal Bernard Law, who was forced to resign in disgrace as archbishop of Boston two years ago for protecting sexually abusive priests, was named by the Vatican today as one of nine prelates who will have the honor of presiding over funeral Masses for Pope John Paul II. To many American Catholics, Cardinal Law is best known as the archbishop who presided over the Boston archdiocese as it became the focus for the sexual abuse scandal involving priests. But to Vatican officials, Cardinal Law is a powerful kingmaker who traveled internationally for the church and whose favorite priests were regularly appointed bishops by John Paul. After he stepped down in Boston in 2003, he was given a spacious apartment and a prestigious although honorary post in Rome as archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major.

It is by virtue of this position that he was given the high-profile role of celebrating Monday’s funeral ritual, the third in the nine-day mourning period that follows a pope’s death. It is expected that most of the cardinals will attend the Mass, which will be open to the public. Cardinal Law will deliver a homily that many Vatican watchers will parse for clues about the cardinals’ thinking on who should be the next pope.

By permitting Cardinal Law to take the limelight in Rome just when the church is mourning the death of John Paul, the cardinals have reminded American Catholics that their most painful recent chapter barely registered in the Vatican. “It’s yet another example of the gap between how the Vatican sees things and how the U.S. church sees things,” said the Rev. Keith F. Pecklers, an American Jesuit who is a professor at the Gregorian, a pontifical university in Rome. “This kind of thing can open the wounds for people just when the healing was beginning.”


One senior Vatican official familiar with the workings of the College of Cardinals, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the cardinals approved the list during their meetings this week. When asked whether Cardinal Law’s role in the American scandal was taken into consideration, the official said, “I don’t think so.” He said that Cardinal Law was not acting as a former Boston archbishop in celebrating the Mass but in “another capacity – he’s one of the senior cardinals.” However, one Vatican expert said that by tradition, the cardinals had no choice but to select Cardinal Law to preside at one of the nine funeral Masses. Dr. John-Peter Pham, author of “Heirs of the Fisherman,” a book about papal succession, said it was customary for the archpriest of one of three patriarchal basilicas in Rome, St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s and St. Mary Major, to celebrate a novemdiales Mass.

The real scandal is that this scumbug is still a priest, let alone one of the most prominent Cardinals in the church.

Update: Steve Bainbridge, whose standing on these matters exceeds mine, agrees.

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James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. McGehee says:

    Unfortunately, merely being ousted from his bishopric doesn’t mean he ceases to be a Cardinal.

    Maybe if the scandal had hit a few years earlier, while John Paul was still relatively healthy, things would have worked out better. Certainly the idea of Law being able to participate in the Conclave still offends the childhood Catholic in me, even nine full years after I joined a Methodist church.

  2. He also gets a vote when the conclave begins. Score a victory against disenfranchisement?

    I guess that Democrats should rejoice that the Catholic Church supports the right for felons, whether blue-collar or dog-collar, to vote for chief executives.

  3. Bob says:

    What crime was Law convicted of? Or even indicted for?

  4. Tony Iovino says:

    Law should not be behind an altar.

    He should be behind bars.