Embattled cardinal receives prayers of area Catholics

Tuesday, February 19, 2002

As calls for Cardinal Bernard F. Law's resignation intensify because of his handling of allegations that priests sexually abused children, some Catholics in Cape Girardeau and Springfield, Mo., remember the Boston prelate as a compassionate man.

The cardinal still has many friends and admirers in Cape Girardeau. He served as bishop for the Springfield-Cape Girardeau Diocese from 1973 to 1984.

J.T. Seesing, a pilot, would sometimes fly the bishop around the southern portion of the state.

The two men don't keep in touch much today, but Seesing said he has "nothing but admiration for the man."

Seesing said, "He was very humble and a religious man who strived to do the right things. I would hate to see him resign because he's done so many good things."

The Springfield-Cape Girardeau Catholic Diocese was the first where Law served as bishop.

Joyce Seesing said she admires the cardinal for his courage.

"He's doing what he knows is right and has made his regrets and apologies," she said.

She is surprised that anyone would call for his dismissal since he is admired and respected by so many.

Cardinal was 'approachable'

"He was a teacher. He was very warm and approachable and funny," she said.

The Seesings went to Boston when Law was appointed to serve there and then to Rome when he was made a cardinal.

During the trip to Rome, Seesing said Law remembered to pray for Charles Drury, who was hospitalized at the time.

"In all the Masses in Rome, he remembered him in prayer," Joyce Seesing said.

Mary Jabusch of Springfield prays for the "very holy man" she has known since he came to Springfield.

Monsignor Thomas Reidy, vicar general of the Springfield-Cape Girardeau diocese, is one of many who knew Law during his 11 years here. When he saw the news reports about Law, he reached for the phone.

"I told him I was praying for him and thinking about him," he said.

Pressure grows

The pressure on Law has been escalating since the Jan. 18 conviction in Cambridge, Mass., of defrocked priest John Geoghan, who faces 10 years in prison for indecent assault and battery on a 10-year-old boy. Geoghan also faces two more criminal trials and 80 civil lawsuits.

Law subsequently apologized to abuse victims and announced a policy of "zero tolerance" for sexual abuse. The change in policy came after documents showed Law knew of the accusations against Geoghan but stayed silent and allowed him to remain a priest.

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston has said it recently gave prosecutors the names of more than 80 active and former priests suspected of sexual abuse.

But in southern Missouri, affection and respect for Law endure.

He is remembered by many as warm and caring, as well as visionary and hardworking when he served the diocese.

The projects he started included Springfield Catholic High School, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton parish and The Kitchen Inc., which has served meals to the poor and homeless since 1983.

Reidy recalled one weekend as a young priest at Springfield's Sacred Heart parish when he called Law in the middle of the night to help him comfort a Spanish-speaking family that had been in a car accident.

Law, who was born in Mexico and is fluent in Spanish, "came right over," Reidy said. "He was able to calm them down and pray with them.

"He wants to serve people and help people," Reidy said. "That's why this must be tearing him apart."

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