National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date:  June 18, 2004

Law appointment triggers protest


Cardinal Bernard Law has been appointed archpriest of the Basilica of St. Mary Major, a largely ceremonial position that means he will live and work full-time in Rome.

The appointment triggered protest from victims of sexual abuse and other observers in the United States, who argued that it amounts to an inappropriate “reward” for a man they see as the symbol of the scandals that have rocked the Catholic church.

The May 28 announcement came on the heels of news that the Boston archdiocese is closing 65 parishes, partly due to the financial impact of the sex abuse crisis.

Law, 72, who resigned as archbishop of Boston on Dec. 13, 2002, has been in Rome since mid-April, and is expected to return to the United States in early July to finalize arrangements for his move. His home since his resignation had been with the Sisters of Mercy of Alma in Clinton, Md., though he has spent much time in Rome.

Early press reports indicated the job could be lucrative, citing figures of as much as $12,000 a month that Law might be receiving.

On May 31, however, Vatican spokesperson Joaquín Navarro-Valls told NCR that Law’s stipend would be 4,000 Euro a month (roughly $5,000), the standard figure for a cardinal serving in the Vatican. That amount, Navarro said, must cover Law’s personal expenses, the cost of a car and driver, and the living expenses of two or three religious sisters who will administer his household.

Some observers were angered by the move.

“It’s an utter disgrace and the people of the archdiocese are being burdened by this,” Fr. Bob Bowers of St. Catherine of Siena Church in Charlestown told The Associated Press.

Boston lawyer Mitchell Garabedian, who represents more than 130 alleged victims of sexual abuse by priests, complained: “He apparently is being transferred to a position that is comfortable and appears to be some sort of reward. The Vatican either doesn’t understand the problem of clergy sex abuse or it doesn’t care.”

Vatican sources, however, told NCR that they saw the appointment as an “act of compassion” for a man who left his last job in disgrace. The position of archpriest, they stressed, carries no policymaking responsibility.

On the other hand, Law remains a member of nine Vatican departments, including the powerful Congregation for Bishops, which determines the names that will go to the pope as candidates for episcopal appointments around the world. That congregation also has responsibility for reviewing and approving the American sex abuse norms.

John L. Allen Jr. is NCR Rome correspondent. His e-mail address is

National Catholic Reporter, June 18, 2004

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