U.S. abuse victims protest cardinal's role

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

VATICAN CITY -- Barbara Blaine clutched a pile of blue and yellow fliers as she walked alone Monday onto one of the most venerated sites in Catholicism.

She had flown in from Chicago just hours before, compelled by what she considered yet another sign of church indifference toward victims of clergy sex abuse. Vatican leaders had asked Cardinal Bernard Law, who resigned as Boston archbishop after mishandling molestation cases, to lead an important Mass at St. Peter's Basilica mourning Pope John Paul II.

Within moments, Italian police guarding St. Peter's Square formed a circle around Blaine, then moved her and a scrum of news cameras from beneath a sheltered walkway onto the street in the pouring rain.

As one other molestation victim stood nearby, she continued her protest. "We believe that Cardinal Law should take a position where he is in the background," she said, standing a few hundred yards from the basilica. "We don't believe this is appropriate for him to be in any position of power or trust in the church."

Law celebrated the Mass without disruption, saying in his homily that Italian, Polish and other pilgrims were inspiring in their huge tribute to John Paul. Nearly 3 million mourners flooded Rome for the pontiff's funeral last week.

"In these incredible days, the pope continues to teach us what it means ... to be a follower of Christ," Law said, reading slowly in Italian. "Our faith has been reinforced."

After the service, several worshippers from Europe said they had never heard of Law. American parishioners said they recognized him, but questioned whether the protest was appropriate right after the pope died.

"It's not the time or the place," said Mary Beth Bauer, who lives in Maine and had followed the abuse crisis and Law's resignation.

But some Catholics said seeing the cardinal presiding over such an important Mass was another sign that the Vatican did not understand the betrayal parishioners felt that he protected guilty priests.

Blaine, founder of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Barbara Dorris, also a leader of the advocacy group, said the choice of Law devastated victims. The Mass is one of nine daily services for the pope for the period of mourning called Novemdiales.

Law resigned as archbishop of Boston in December 2002 after unsealed court records revealed he had moved predatory clergy among parishes for years without telling parents their children were at risk. He has apologized for his wrongdoing.

More than 550 people have filed abuse claims in Boston in recent years, and the archdiocese has paid more than $85 million in settlements. The scandal erupted in Boston in January 2002 and spread nationwide.

After Law's resignation, the pope appointed him archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, one of four basilicas under direct Vatican jurisdiction.

Some church leaders have said the Vatican chose Law for the Mass because he leads an important church, not as a personal honor.

Still, the assignment gave Law a position of influence ahead of the papal election, which is set to begin next Monday.

The Survivors Network, which claims more than 5,600 members, has spent more than a decade pressing U.S. bishops to acknowledge the scope of molestation in the church.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Law, through an aide, declined to comment on his participation in the Mass. The Survivors Network had asked the American cardinals to intervene to stop Law, but Blaine said they did not respond.

Blaine, who said a priest began molesting her when she was about 12, said the Vatican, not her group, was responsible for making abuse an issue during the papal transition. She did not oppose Law voting in the concave.

"We are the sons and daughters of the Catholic family who were raped, sodomized and sexually molested by priests," Blaine said, holding a photograph of herself at age 12, child 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."

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